HL Deb 30 July 1981 vol 423 cc764-806

3.4 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 2 [Provision of special education: duties of local education authorities etc.]:

Lord Banks moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 20, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert— ("(2) Where a local education authority arrange special educational provision for a child for whom they maintain a statement under section 7 of this Act it shall be the duty of the authority after consulting the child's parent, to secure that he is educated in an ordinary school except where the nature or severity of the child's special needs is such that education in an ordinary school, even if supplementary aids and services are provided, cannot be achieved satisfactorily or is incompatible with the provision of efficient education for the children with whom he will be educated.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I moved a very similar amendment in Committee and the object of that, as I said at the time, was to reduce to the minimum essential the conditions governing the general and welcome intention to integrate the education of handicapped children with that of other children in ordinary schools. In particular, the object was to prevent subsection (3)(a) and (c) of Clause 2 from being used as excuses for obstructing integration. The inclusion in the amendment of the phrase, even if supplementary aids and services are provided", was intended to make it clear that they ought to be provided and that we regarded that as important. Nevertheless, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, made some criticism of the amendment and I withdrew it so that my colleagues and I could consider what she had said. The noble Baroness complained that we had left out the parents' wishes, and we felt that was a valid criticism. We have made sure in the amendment now before the House that consultation with the parents is assured.

The noble Baroness also criticised the previous amendment because it did not make the placement in an ordinary school of a child with a statement conditional on it being compatible with the provision of efficient education of the other children already in that school. In the revised amendment we have incorporated that condition; or, some would say, that since it does not apply to other children, that condition should not apply to handicapped children. However, as I say, we have included it in the revised amendment. We have gone some way to meet the noble Baroness's objections and I hope she will feel able to withdraw her opposition to the amendment and accept it in the revised form.

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

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Banks, is right to say that we debated at length a similar amendment tabled by himself and the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, in Committee. I have studied this further amendment carefully and I can see that he has made alterations to his original amendment, no doubt to meet some of the objections that I raised when we debated this matter before.

The amendment would have the effect of requiring LEAs to place every child with a statement in an ordinary school unless the child had such severe needs that its education there could not be achieved satisfactorily or was incompatible with the provision of efficient education for other children in the school. There are difficulties with that because if we take the proposition to the extreme, every child with special needs could be educated on the premises of an ordinary school, if local education authorities had unlimited resources from which to provide individual support services. However, if that meant educating the child in a class of one, it could hardly be called satisfactory provision. It would certainly not be consistent with the principle of association with other children which is set out in subsection (7) of this clause.

I do not think there is any difference in intention between the Government's proposals and this amendment. We are all concerned to safeguard the child's interests and to take account of his parents' wishes. We are all concerned that children should attend ordinary schools wherever practicable and suitable and that no child should be forced to attend a special school unnecessarily, and we believe the Bill achieves that as it stands.

I have studied very carefully what noble Lords said in Committee about a similar amendment and, as the House will know, I have been willing to consider and accept amendments which will improve the Bill. I must say, however, that having considered this amendment and the arguments the noble Lord, Lord Banks, put forward, I cannot sec a convincing case for making a change. This amendment is not backed by a corresponding duty on LEAs to provide the supplementary aids and services in support of the child with a statement. Its effect therefore would be to put LEAs under a duty to educate these children in an ordinary school even if they did not have the money to provide the supplementary aids and services. As I said in Committee, the Government's statement of principle about integration in Clause 2 is, we believe, realistically and properly drafted. Some noble Lords may not like the reference to "the efficient use of resources", a term used in the 1980 Act, but no Government of whatever complexion would surrender their duty to the taxpayer and ratepayer to see that scarce resources are wisely used. The integration of children with severe and complex special educational needs into ordinary schools will continue, and in the Bill the Government have made it clear that it is to the ordinary school that LEAs must look first when considering the placement of a child with a statement. However, the pace of integration will necessarily be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

I believe that this amendment is unrealistic in the absence of a requirement that a child's special educational needs must be met. Because, as I have indicated, there is no difference between the intention behind the Government's proposals and that behind Lord Banks's, I hope he will accept that this amendment should be withdrawn.

Lord Banks

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for the care with which she has approached this amendment. I listened with great interest to what she had to say. The major point of difference between those of us who support the amendment and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, as she indicated at the conclusion of her remarks, is the use of the phrase, "the efficient use of resources". It is, of course, in the current context that we are particularly anxious about that phrase. But we have left in the phrase: efficient education for the children with whom he will be educated'', and I should have thought that that was a sufficient safeguard of general efficiency. We know that it is the Government's intention to carry through the integration programme without the use of additional resources. We know what the noble Baroness has said about falling rolls and the redeployment of money as a consequence, and we understand that position, but we are still not convinced that no extra resources will be needed.

We are afraid that the reference to "the efficient use of resources" could be an excuse for inaction. After all, when we were discussing the Disabled Persons (No. 2) Bill we saw how the wording of the planning legislation, by the use of the words "practical and reasonable", provided an excuse for inaction in the application of the provisions dealing with access. We would not want a repetition of that. It is extremely important to get the beginning of this Bill right. However, the noble Baroness put forward some other criticisms of this amendment and I would certainly like to consider what she has said. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.13 p.m.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, line 36, at end insert— ("( ) The Secretary of State shall, each year, lay before Parliament a report on the implementation of this Act and his proposals to improve special educational provision with particular regard to the duty of local education authorities under section 2(2) of this Act.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, anxiety has been expressed by many Members of this House about the monitoring of this Bill when it becomes an Act. A number of us wish to see an advisory committee written into the Bill for this purpose but it has become quite clear, both in the other place and in Committee in your Lordships' House, that the Government would not accept such a provision, and so we decided not to waste the time of the House by putting down that amendment again.

Instead we have put down this amendment, which is an attempt to ensure that we know what progress is being made with the implementation of the Act and in particular with the integration of children with special educational needs in ordinary schools. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, put down an amend- ment in Committee asking for an annual report to be made to the Secretary of State by the local authorities, the report to be analysed either in the department or in a relevant organisation. The noble Baroness expressed anxiety about how the Act would work in practice and how good practise could be disseminated.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, supported her and asked how good practices could be learned unless statistics and information are kept. In reply the noble Baroness the Minister said that she expected local authorities would review their arrangements each year and that comprehensive statistics are already collected and programmed on the department's computer and we shall continue to require annual information on pupil numbers and on placements after this legislation has been enacted". I understand that the noble Baroness the Minister is keen to monitor the working of the Act and will be collecting statistics so that adequate information can be imparted to local education authorities and other interested people.

Much work is going to be done and I cannot believe that if the review is to be made locally, and if the department is collecting statistics and information centrally, it would involve much more work for the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament an annual report. We want to know whether the good intentions which are no doubt expressed in the Bill will lead to anything much in practice. We want to know what progress is being made with the training of teachers, both initial and in-service. Will the Secretary of State make regulations requiring teachers of children with special educational needs to possess certain qualifications? The Minister said in Committee (col. 495 of the Official Report): teachers will need some training in identifying and then meeting their educational needs". She went on to say: As the Government are aware of the importance of in-service training, our expenditure plans for 1983–84 make provision for the release of teachers for in-service training at a similar level to that in the recent past". We shall want to know whether local authorities are spending that money in that way. We shall want to know about the "staying on" rate of these children after 16 years of age, how parent involvement in the assessment and placement of children is working out, and much else.

The Minister has on a number of occasions said how difficult it was to put the Warnock recommendations into legal framework. It therefore seems to me to be even more important, particularly when no extra resources are being put in, that we Members of Parliament should have the opportunity to hear how the Act is working. This is a modest amendment. A rather similar amendment was incorporated in the Disabled Persons (No. 2) Bill and so I cannot imagine how the Government can turn it down. I believe that its incorporation into the Bill could allay some fears and give some encouragement. I beg to move.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady David, as to the need to monitor the progress of this Bill when it becomes an Act and what happens year by year. Furthermore, I am sure it is very important that everyone should monitor its progress in the same way. If the Act is monitored differently as between the north and the south, or as between the east and the west, we shall not see a true picture of what is happening. However, I question the noble Baroness's proposal to bring this matter before Parliament. If every Bill that we passed called for a report to be brought before Parliament we might find ourselves in some difficulty. I support very much the monitoring of this Bill when it becomes an Act, and I am very grateful to my noble friend the Minister for having seen my point of view on this question and for giving me an assurance that it is in her mind and that of her department that it should be monitored, but I cannot agree with the noble Baroness, Lady David, when she says that it should come before Parliament.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I too should like to add a few brief words in support of this amendment. We have all said that there is a great deal of worry about monitoring. It is interesting that Professor Ed Martin, who was responsible for the United States' Education of all Handicapped Children Act 1975, said at a conference on special educational needs in Southampton a few weeks ago that some resistance had been encountered after the first year or two of that Act, which had not been anticipated. They had spent so much time talking beforehand that they had rather neglected "selling" the Act afterwards. I believe this amendment would help us to see how things progress. The noble Baroness the Minister said that she was willing to consider any amendments which would improve this Bill, and I am sure that this amendment would do that.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I want to associate myself with the remarks which have been made by the noble Baroness, Lady David, because when I read in the Official Report the reply which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, gave to me in the last debate I was not very happy at her statement that, We have every intention of ensuring that future statistics will reflect the new, less simple view of handicaps". She went on to say that the Government agreed with Warnock to that effect. What concerns me is this. If the only statistics which are going to be kept relate to those children with severe needs—those children about whom local authorities have made statements—how shall we know about all the others, perhaps the majority, who will be integrated into ordinary school numbers? Such children will comprise the largest percentage of those requiring special education, but they will not be designated as the most severe cases. I use the word "severe" in the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, used it in her reply to me. Surely if there are to be collected only the types of figures that we have heard about, the local authority will already have those figures simply because it has had to make a statement. The figures will be readily available.

The Bill is concerned with integration into the ordinary system, and so I believe it is important for us to know how successful is the integration. This is the main theme of the Bill. We must monitor the integration to see how successful it is, to see whether it is successful and is giving the best advantages to the children concerned, or whether it is merely a "paper" integration without all the services and resources being given to the children. It could easily become that kind of integration if we are not careful. In view of my great interest in the partially sighted and the blind, I am in particular concerned that there shall be proper monitoring of the integration; otherwise the children will not receive the services, aids and resources.

Even if the Government do not want a report, they should be able to supply statistics when Members ask for them; otherwise we have no idea of how the legislation to which we are party is progressing. I say with the greatest kindness to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that the Department of the Environment collects all kinds of statistics from local authorities. Members can ask all kinds of questions. They can ask, for instance, about how many council houses have been sold, and Ministers can quite easily give the statistics. It is not difficult for a local authority to keep statistics, and we are asking that the statistics should cover not only severe cases but also those involving children who are to be integrated into the ordinary school system.

Baroness Lane-Fox

I speak against the amendment, though I believe that probably it reaches for the ideal. I feel that it might have the effect of delaying implementation of the Bill. I listened with great sympathy to what the noble Baroness has just said about the need to have statistics in order to see whether implementation is working out well, but surely it is bound to be a question of evolution when it comes to getting it to work properly. In the end if an amendment of this kind will hold up the passing of the Bill, surely it is more important and more essential to get the framework of the Bill on to the statute book. We have heard from my noble friend Lady Faithfull that my noble friend the Minister is ready to give something on this very point. Therefore I oppose the amendment, and I shall be very interested to hear what the Minister has to tell us on this particular point.

Lord Robbins

I think that the conflict of opinion which has been expressed from various quarters of the House is possibly somewhat unreal. It seems to me that in this particular respect, where in the past the duties of society in relation to the disabled and the mentally handicapped have not been as extensive as might have been wished, statistics are absolutely essential. On the other hand, I have some sympathy with the point of view expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, in that I feel that the words "each year" might strike some apprehension in the hearts of those who are of the opinion which has been generally expressed throughout the House. I wonder whether the difficulty could not be resolved by providing in the amendment for a report every other year or at some other precise time. If that were done, the amendment would certainly have my wholehearted support. To produce each year the kind of analytical, statistical survey which would be involved might impose some difficulties, but I cannot believe that it would be unreasonable to demand not only that the matter should be monitored by the officials concerned, but that at stated periods we in both Houses of Parliament should have an opportunity to discuss it.

Lord Milverton

My Lords, I basically support the amendment and I agree with the noble Lord who has just spoken that it would probably be more sensible to have a report every two or three years. The Secretary of State, whoever he or she was, would still have to make the report. If the noble Baroness would agree to alter the amendment so as to provide for a report every two or three years, it would have my full support.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I find it rather astonishing that we seem to be making such heavy weather of the question of this particular report. Two days ago I collected from the Printed Paper Office two reports from other Government departments. Those reports are published yearly and are only two of a very large number of reports. They referred in particular to the activities of the Home Office, provided detailed statistical information about prisons and prisoners, and contained various sections and subsections. Those of us who have been involved in education know that Her Majesty's Inspectors are always under an obligation to present reports. The mere fact that a report is presented to Parliament does not mean that anything is done about it, unless we demand a debate on it. I am very astonished that such heavy weather is being made of this one particular Bill, since surely all Acts of Parliament contain some machinery for the annual presentation of reports.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, in answering the various important speeches that have been made on the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady David, it may be helpful if I explain how we see the Bill being implemented. Once its provisions—and in some cases the transitional provisions—have been brought into force local education authorities will be under a duty to implement them.

The process of implementing the provisions of the Bill will be continuous. It will be one that will involve the whole of the education service in a local education authority, from the teacher in the classroom, acting day to day, to formal meetings of the education committee. It will involve review and reappraisal—and it is for that reason that it is not a process which can be charted and accounted for on a particular date annually in a way which would be truly useful without a very great administrative exercise by LEAs and officials of the Department of Education, and by the local authority inspectorate and Her Majesty's Inspectors in a way that could not be justified. The noble Baroness, Lady David, in the course of her remarks, said that she felt it would not involve extra resources; but, of course, the time of people is a very expensive resource, and the time devoted to a very detailed exercise is time that is taken away from other matters. That, I think, is a point to which my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox drew attention.

There was another point that was raised, again both by the noble Baroness, Lady David, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), about how we would pass on instances of good practice. I would suggest that this will be done in the way that good practice is passed on throughout the education service. It will be partly by reports published by the inspectorate (a point to which the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, drew attention); it will be passed on by conferences and professional meetings of teachers; it will be passed on by conferences among teachers, local politicians and national politicians, and so on. All those processes will continue.

But as to the sort of point that the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, was making—she asked about the detailed information—the department publishes an annual report. I picked up the one for 1980, which is the most recent publication—it has just been published—and, of course, it gives statistics as to the numbers of pupils broken down in some detail. It is not, I think, in the detail which the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, was asking for, because she was asking, "How do we know, when children with special educational needs are integrated into schools, whether it is a proper integration or", as I think she described it, "a paper integration?" I suspect that no one is going to admit that they have a paper integration anywhere, so this would be something it would be difficult to collect. But if, as we assume and believe—and I believe—there will be pupils who will go in and out of ordinary schools, or who may have special educational needs for a time and then come out, how far you can collect these detailed statistics is going to be quite a difficult exercise; but it is one that we can certainly look at in the light of this Bill.

If, as I say, your Lordships read the latest report from the department, one of the paragraphs draws attention, not only to the White Paper that was coming but also the Government's intentions on the Bill that is currently before the House. Clearly, in any annual report there would have to be a reference, I believe, to how this Bill would affect special education, because there is a part in the report devoted to special education, and it could include at any rate some of the things which have been referred to in this debate this afternoon. It is in that sense that my department will be monitoring the workings of the Act, as I explained to my noble friend Lady Faithfull when we discussed this matter earlier on; and as I have already indicated, the Secretary of State is required to make an annual report to Parliament. Should the Secretary of State be in a position to announce that, for example, additional resources would be available to local education authorities which were intended for the purposes of special educational provision, such information would of course be announced in Parliament as appropriate.

I therefore think that the answer to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, was making is that the opportunities to discuss special education could arise, either in the circumstances that I have described, where there might be more money going for this purpose; or on the publication of the annual report of the DES; or, of course, in your Lordships' House on one of the many opportunities which we have to debate matters of this kind. I would suggest, if I may say so, that either one of the Wednesday Short Debates or a long debate—because this is clearly a matter to which your Lordships attach great importance—would be an opportunity to discuss the Act, perhaps following on the basis of the DES annual report, and would be an opportunity to talk about good practice—and I am very pleased to see my noble friend Lord Swinton here, who, of course, gave us some very good examples of LEA good practice when he spoke on Second Reading. That would be an opportunity to draw attention to any of these matters, and I think we all agree that your Lordships' House is an excellent forum for discussion and dissemination of matters of this kind.

I therefore hope that, with this explanation, the House will feel that this amendment is unnecessary, bearing in mind that we do have the regular DES report, which is similar to reports of the kind to which the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, referred. I will certainly consider very carefully the points that have been made, and whether there are other statistics that should go into the report and that we should be collecting. I think this is important; and I hope that we shall take the opportunity provided particularly by your Lordships' House to discuss this matter perhaps in a year or two years' time, when we have experience of the Bill. I think this would be a very useful debate to have, and one which would be very valuable for the professionals working in the field, who would like to feel that there are so many people who take a great interest in the work that they do. With those remarks, I hope very much that the noble Baroness, Lady David, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness David

My Lords, I am a little discouraged by the Minister's reply because I do not feel that we are perhaps going to have all the information that we should like as to how this Act is working. I take the point about the DES annual report, but I wonder how many of us have in fact held it in our hands. I do not think it is unusual for reports to be laid before Parliament. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, gave us examples; and I think the Disabled Persons (No. 2) Bill has in it a clause, Clause 7, which is very similar to the one that I have suggested.

If I may say so to the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, I do not think that if this amendment were accepted it would delay the implementation of the Bill, and certainly not its passing. However, I shall not press the amendment. I shall follow with interest, of course, any reports that come out, and I am quite sure that we shall take the opportunity to debate what is happening in the country so far as this Act is concerned within a year or so. I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.38 p.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth) moved Amendment No. 3: After Clause 2, insert the following new clause:

("Access to ordinary schools

.—(1) It shall be the duty of every local education authority to review and keep under review the arrangements made by them to ensure that no child with a physical or sensory disability is obliged to attend a special school solely on account of the buildings or other premises of ordinary schools within the area being inaccessible to or inconvenient for the use of the said child as a result of his disability.

(2) Details of the said arrangements and of any changes in the arrangements shall be submitted to the Secretary of State for his approval.

(3) In deciding on the said arrangements, the local education authority shall take account of the facts that—

  1. (a) qualified teachers and other people with physical or sensory disabilities may wish to work in an ordinary school in the area;
  2. (b) parents with physical or sensory disabilities may wish 773 to visit an ordinary school in the area in connection with the education of a son or daughter or foster child; and
  3. (c) people with physical or sensory disabilities in the local community in the vicinity of an ordinary school may wish to make use of the facilities of the school with other members of the community during "out-of-school" hours.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a much milder version of an amendment which was very narrowly defeated at Committee, which several noble Lords—Lords Somers and Lord Banks among them —felt was a minimum commitment towards integration. It differs from the earlier amendment in several aspects. First, it merely calls for an LEA to review its arrangements for making some ordinary schools accessible, so that no child is obliged to attend a special school because there is no ordinary school accessible. It does not require at least one school to be made accessible, as did the earlier amendment, and so it eliminates the fears expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, at col. 483, that that one ordinary school might in effect become the special school.

It is true that this amendment still singles out a particular group of disabled children, but I feel that this is necessary because no other group is precluded from being educated in ordinary schools solely on account of access problems. But unlike the earlier amendment, this one makes no mention of aids or help, and thus avoids the difficulty raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, at col. 484, about the needs of the SNM child not being covered. The question of aids and help, et cetera, is very important indeed, but Amendment No. 1, which was moved by Lord Banks, would have dealt with that.

I would in any case submit that the question of access is rather different. The provision of aids and help is an ongoing thing. The needs of each child will vary, and, indeed, the needs of a particular child may vary at different times during his career at school. Resources wax and wane and teachers and helpers come and go. Access is a one-off matter. If a school is built accessible or if it correctly adapted, access is there for the life of the building and it will be suitable over the years for any pupil with a physical or sensory handicap, provided that he does not need additional help. That, as we have said, is different.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, has already mentioned Section 7 of the Disabled Persons (No. 2) Act, which lays a duty on the Secretary of State to report on his proposals for ensuring or facilitating the improvement of means of access of disabled persons to buildings. This specifically includes educational buildings.

Subsection (2) of the amendment under discussion calls for the LEA to submit details of its arrangements or changes in the arrangements to the Secretary of State. I feel that this would help him with his report. I want to stress that in simply asking LEAs to review their arrangements for ensuring access, this amendment allows flexibility. The pace of change will be governed by the LEAs themselves. Nobody will be forced to do anything they cannot or will not do. This should overcome Lord Digby's objection at Committee (at col. 469 of Hansard) that the earlier arrangement was trying to speed up the implementation of the Warnock Report.

The factors to be taken into account in subsection (3) are important if integration generally is to succeed and if attitudes are to change. Regarding subsection (3)(a), quite apart from the fact that a qualified disabled teacher should be able to teach in an ordinary school, his presence will help able-bodied pupils to understand the disabled, and if there are any handicapped pupils attending, they will realise that they can grow up to lead useful lives. Turning to subsection (3)(b), it is euphemistic to say that it is very irritating for disabled parents not to be able to see their child's work or visit exhibitions, et cetera if the school is inaccessible. Thirdly, schools are increasingly used by the community for other purposes—for example, our church is at present in a local school. I feel this new clause is necessary if we are to work towards integration. I hope that there is enough flexibility to be acceptable, because it really is not forcing the pace. I beg to move.

Baroness Young

I have listened with great care to what the noble Baroness has said. I recognise that, as in the case of the first amendment, she has looked at the debate which we had at Committee stage and has altered her amendment in order to take account of some of the points of difficulty that were raised on that occasion.

I feel bound to say to the noble Baroness that we are talking about the Education Bill—which is intended, in the words of the Long Title, "to make provision with respect to children with special educational needs" —and not with the Bill which is now the Disabled Persons Act, which has a slightly different purpose.

Let us consider what benefit this clause is intended to bring to children with physical or sensory disabilities. It follows the principle that children with special educational needs should be educated in ordinary schools, subject to the safeguards set out in Clause 2. It then places a duty on local education authorities to review and keep under review the arrangements which they make to ensure that such a child is not obliged to attend a special school solely because the ordinary schools of the area are inaccessible to or inconvenient for the child as a result of his physical or sensory disability.

It may be that the ordinary schools are inconvenient: an old building may be acoustically quite unsuitable for a child with defective hearing, and not capable of being made suitable, in spite of the advice given in the DES Design Note No. 25. It will not be possible to provide a deaf child with the special educational provision he requires in such a school. There is immediately a conflict between the provision in this new clause and the requirements of Clause 2.

The approach of the Bill is to say, "a child with certain disabilities has special educational needs; local education authorities must see that special educational provision is made to meet those needs. So long as the provision to suit the child can be made in an ordinary school, he should be educated there". This amendment looks at the buildings, not at the child's needs. Its approach is incompatible with that of the Bill, and on that ground alone it is unacceptable.

There are other reasons why the amendment is unacceptable. Subsection (2) requires LEAs to submit details of their arrangements to the Secretary of State for approval. This would import into the Bill a degree of control over detail which is inconsistent with the relationship between central Government and local authorities. It would add unnecessarily to the work of central and local administration, and could divert effort from the real tasks of providing for children.

Subsection (3) goes well beyond the scope of the Bill. It would require local education authorities to look not only at the ordinary schools which a child with special needs might attend, but at any school which a person with a sensory or physical disability might wish to work in, or visit as a parent or casual visitor. That would go further than the Act which this House has recently passed. That Act imposed some responsibilities in respect of new educational buildings: this amendment would extend to existing buildings.

I have spoken at length on this because I would not wish the noble Baroness to think for one moment that I had not carefully considered her amendment and what she is trying to do. We all have every sympathy with the aims of the noble Baroness and others who wish to see us going further in access provisions. I hope that they will accept that this is not the right approach or the right Bill in which to do this and will accept my assurances on the kind of things which in principle the noble Baroness wants, that the children with special educational needs will have the best education we can provide for them in the right circumstances.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Leeds education authority for their good facilities for handicapped children. They have special schools for those who need them and a splendid ordinary comprehensive school with access to all departments for disabled children who have to use a wheelchair or crutches or have other difficulties. This school is called Holt Park. It also has a community library included in the complex. If Leeds can do this, why cannot other educational authorities? As Leeds have had these facilities for some time, perhaps before the Third Reading the Government will report on how successful they are proving. This amendment seems very reasonable and I should like to support it.

Baroness David

My Lords, I think that the Minister was a little hard on this amendment. All it asks is that it shall be the duty of every LEA to review and keep under review the arrangements made by them. It is not trying to force the pace too fast. The Minister said that it did not look at the child's needs. I thought it looked at the need of the child with a physical disability to be with other children of similar abilities and to be with many other children, which we all agree is the right thing and is also good for the other children in the school. I wonder whether she thinks that the third subsection is going beyond the scope of the Bill and whether she would think of accepting subsections (1) and (2) if the third one was taken away and this amendment was brought back at Third Reading.

Baroness Young

My Lords, as we are on Report, I speak by leave of the House for the second time. There is no doubt at all that subsection (3) is beyond the scope of the Bill and therefore could not be accepted. I am sorry if I did not make myself quite clear. I am bound to say that I do not think the principle in subsection (1) of this new clause is the same and is strictly compatible with the proposals within the Bill as a whole. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, although I was delighted to hear of the very good example she quoted—and I hope we shall hear of many good examples—will not mind if I say it is quite different to have one school where this is possible rather than the implication contained in this amendment, of the duty upon every local authority which would ensure that no child with a physical or sensory disability is obliged to attend a special school solely on account of buildings or other premises of ordinary schools. That, of course, has a much wider context than having one school which is suitable.

I am quite certain that we should all like, in an ideal world, to see that all schools are suitably equipped. I believe that this will come about in the passage of time, first, as regards new buildings and then, as resources allow, in other buildings. Of course, there are many examples of schools which are accessible to pupils in wheelchairs, to those who are deaf or who have some sensory disability. I do not believe this process would necessarily be speeded up; but what is important is that the Bill requires local education authorities to look at the special needs of the children, and that is more than access to buildings. It covers all their needs. In some cases it may be access to buildings but equally, in other cases, it may be much more than that. That is the point of principle I was trying to make.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, I was interested to hear the way the noble Baroness dismissed the phrase "under review" as not committing central Government or other authorities to something that could be quite onerous in certain circumstances. "Under review", in the terms of a legal statute, means something. It means that the matter really has to be kept under review, and I should have thought this was less likely to become onerous under certain circumstances: for instance, if a specific time limit of two or three years were given. But to leave it "under review" in that open-ended way in certain circumstances, with the reaction of certain people, could become very onerous indeed. I should have thought that in terms of good language in the statute, this was much too wide to be accepted in this Bill.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I apologise for intervening because, in order to answer my question, the noble Baroness will have to ask for leave of the House once more. She said, I think, on two occasions that subsection (3) of the proposed amendment was outside the scope of the Bill and therefore was unacceptable. However, I am sure she will agree with me that this House, unlike another place, has the right to change the Long Title of the Bill and therefore there is nothing unacceptable, so far as the traditions of this House are concerned, in accepting the amendment as drafted, on that particular aspect of the matter at least.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I think I am going to be most unpopular here with the "mobile Front Bench", but I should like to support what my noble friend the Minister has said. I find myself in great difficulty over supporting this amendment and I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, in this connection, though I have already informed her by telephone that my views may not be exactly like hers. I find great trouble over the words "within the area", which occur about three times. Nothing states what "the area" is. My noble kinswoman, my wife, made a very good point about Leeds. We hear a great deal about the problems of inner city areas, but Leeds has a great bonus, that of distance. It is very easy for Leeds to put up one enormous comprehensive school with a lot of lifts and things, and they can move children from the city area there if they meet that problem. But what happens in an area such as my own, where perhaps there is a secondary school which is incapable of taking a child in a wheelchair and the nearest secondary school is 35 miles away, and that may well be unsuitable also? It seems to me that "an area" can be anything. It can be the catchment area of a school; it can be, as my wife said to me on the way down, a local health area; or it might even be a local authority area. It could mean almost anything. I think there is a very real problem here, in that in a rural area you cannot involve every single school; and of course we are thinking here not only of secondary schools, but of primary schools. The catchment area of a primary school may cover a large distance. I see a great many problems in this, and I must admit that I have not been convinced by the "mobile Front Bench" to give my support to this amendment on this occasion.

Baroness Young

My Lords, by leave of the House, perhaps I could just say in answer to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that of course I understand it is perfectly possible for this House to amend the Long Title of the Bill but, as he will see, the Long Title of the Bill refers to making provision in respect of children with special educational needs, with which the whole Bill is concerned. If he looks at this amendment, new Clause 3(1)(c) refers to, people with physical or sensory disabilities in the local community in the vicinity of an ordinary school …". I think he will agree that this is outside the Long Title of the Bill, and it would be very difficult to amend the Long Title to take in this particular group. If one starts to do that, one has to look at all sorts of other people who might be affected by it, and I do not think it would be an appropriate place to include this proposal. Important though this is, it was the sort of matter which was discussed under the Disabled Persons Act, now on the statute book. There it was appropriately discussed; but not under this Bill.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, if I may, I should like first to thank the Minister for the number of replies she has made. I am sorry she has had to go into the matter so often. I should like also to express my gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady David, for her comments. I do not think the amendment asks much, but it does look at the child's special educational needs. I realise it is singling out one particular aspect, but I had tried to prove that it is really an aspect which is singled out in its essence anyway. I had hoped that the Minister would find herself able to accept this amendment, perhaps without subsection (3), which I agree goes wider than the scope of the Bill. I had hoped very much that she would perhaps offer to meet me some way. However, I shall read very carefully indeed what she has said in Hansard, and I may even try to come back with yet another modification of this amendment on Third Reading. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.59 p.m.

Lord Banks moved Amendment No. 4: After Clause 3, insert the following new clause:

("Development plans

.—(1) It shall be the duty of every local education authority, within two years of the coming into force of this Act, to prepare a development plan for the following five years detailing the arrangements that will be made in their area for making available a range of different types of provision, both in ordinary schools and elsewhere, for meeting the variety of different special educational needs that exist in their area.

(2) All such development plans shall be reviewed as necessary, but in any case not less frequently than every three years, to ensure that the plans continue to be appropriate to the special educational needs and resources of the local education authority area concerned.

(3) All such development plans shall be submitted to the Secretary of Stale for his approval.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, at Committee stage I moved a somewhat similar amendment and pointed out then that both the report integrating the disabled and the Warnock Report advocated the planned introduction of integration over a period of time. It could not all happen at once and, to make sure that it did happen eventually, the amendment placed the duty on the local education authority to produce to the Secretary of State a five-year plan within one year of the coming into force of the Act. The House divided on that amendment and it was lost. We then had to consider whether we could produce a new amendment with a similar purpose but one which would take account of the criticisms made in Committee, which may have persuaded the House to reject the earlier amendment. We believe that in the amendment now under consideration we have done that.

The amendment provides for a five-year plan to be produced within two years of the Act coming into force. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, had two principal objections to the previous amendment. First, with certain other noble Lords, she pointed out that plans, once adopted, can become out of date and can be overtaken by events; entirely new circumstances may arise. We have taken that into account in this amendment and have made provision for the plan to be reviewed as necessary, and regularly.

Secondly, the noble Baroness pointed out that our previous amendment referred only to ordinary schools and did not cover special schools. This, we felt, was a valid criticism so we have ensured that the amendment now before the House covers special schools as well as ordinary schools. We have met the two principal objections of the noble Baroness and we have, in a sense, leaned over backwards to accommodate her. She must, I am sure, accept that in an operation of the kind which the Bill will initiate some planning on the part of local authorities is necessary, and she may agree that, in order to make sure that this takes place in all local education areas, some obligation to produce such a plan is required. I hope once again that, in view of the alterations we have made to meet her criticisms, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her opposition and to accept the amendment. My Lords, I beg to move.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, is not in his place today, but I understand that it was difficult for him to come. He was, after all, a director of education and I was a director of social services. Some years ago the then Minister of Health, Sir Keith Joseph, ordered a development plan for the social services and every single local authority throughout England had to get out such a plan. It took the most enormous amount of time and money. But all those plans are now in the waste-paper basket, having never been used because of the change of circumstances.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Banks, dealt with the question of the change of circumstances, but at the beginning those development plans were an absolute millstone around my neck because at that time we could have done more if we had known about the change of circumstances. Therefore, it works against the wellbeing of our departments and what we do. Equally, if circumstances are changing the other way, then one has wasted a great deal of the staff's time, money and expertise. We should be much more flexible in meeting circumstances as they arise. For that reason I think that the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, as a chief education officer, and I would oppose this amendment, bearing in mind that under Clause 2(4), It shall be the duty of every local education authority to keep under review the arrangements made by them for special educational provision ".

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, on the merits of the amendment I do not have any comment to make. But on the reasons advanced by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, I am astonished that she could suggest that no one should have any development plans because they are ultimately not carried out by Governments. Unfortunately, Governments change in the meantime and, surely, development plans are an opportunity which we all have to take when we are in administration.

Many times I have been engaged in this type of exercise, and it is possible to discover that you have been working on something for so long that you have not realised how inefficient you have become in certain particulars. Only a fully implemented search into whether your methods are good, or whether they could be better, can demonstrate this, but you will never do this unless you are directed to do it. The great thing about a development plan is that you have to sit down, look rather cold-bloodedly at your own exercise and decide how best it should be implemented. I suggest to the noble Baroness that this is certainly no reason for saying that a five-year development plan is a bad idea.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, by leave of the House, may I reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips? Every year the chief officer of a local authority has to get out the estimates for the following year. At the time when he gets out the estimates the work for the future year is reviewed and the work of the past year also is reviewed. So it is almost automatic that one's work is reviewed, and my committee demanded a plan for the following year.

Baroness David

My Lords, I simply do not understand how local authorities will get on without having some kind of plan on which to work. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, referred to the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, as a director of education. I have spoken within the last few days to a director of education in our area, to ask him what he thought about this. He is actually in post now. He said that his area was making a plan, which would be a 10-year plan, and he did not see how they could possibly manage without it because they have to think about how they will use their buildings.

I was interested to see a press notice from the Department of Education and Science, which went out on 16th June, asking LEAs to review their plans on surplus school places. If I may quote just one or two extracts, the notice said: Authorities are asked to review their plans to rationalise their school stock and to inform the DES by the end of the year of action they propose to take up to 1986 "— that is, five years from now, and five years is what is mentioned in the amendment. It went on: It is estimated that by 1986 there will be over 3 million surplus primary and secondary school places in England and Wales—even after allowing for space standards to be brought up to those of a well designed new school". It also said: recognising that taking permanent places out of use often requires some building work in order to expand or improve the schools which receive pupils from closed schools". Here is an admirable opportunity to add units to existing schools when little building has to go on. Then there is a part headed "Urgent Review" which reads: The circular asks those LEAs who have not yet done so to review urgently how they might rationalise their primary and secondary school stock in the light of staffing and curricular needs of their school population. LEAs have been asked to send the following information to the DES". There is a lot about pupil numbers, but it also asks for similar information about special schools.

I should have thought that, if local authorities had to do all that, it would not be difficult, within that same exercise, to make a plan showing how they will deal with their special schools and with the adding of units to other schools; in fact, showing their general plans for integration. I should like strongly to support the amendment.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I, too, should like extremely briefly to support the amendment. It seems absolutely fundamental for making the Bill work. The Minister said on Second Reading, at column 979 of the Official Report—and she said it again today, when speaking to Amendment No. 1—that the Bill was evolutionary rather than revolutionary and a plan is needed to ensure that things go in the right direction at a realistic pace.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I should have thought, with the great concern that there is at the moment for handicapped people, that the vast majority of education authorities were already making plans and revising existing plans. Therefore, this proposed new clause is probably superfluous and it could tie the hands of local education authorities by putting their possibly wider ideas into a narrow context.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I think I am right in saying that there have been massive cuts in educational funds. This is a great danger because local authorities may cut educational facilities for handicapped people, too. Therefore, there should be a plan, because one has to be more careful with resources.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, as an old member of a local authority, I cannot understand the objection to this amendment. We have to make plans for drains, sewers, roads, housing and all kinds of aspects of our work in local authorities. We have to do that, if only so that we can budget and get our costs and priorities sorted out. I find it quite incredible that it is suggested that the message should go forth from this House that the Bill can be implemented without local authorities doing any planning. I should have thought that any concerned and good local authority would do this as a matter of course because it is the only way to work. By giving the amendment the blessing of this House we should be helping local authorities to take the idea of planning in this sphere as seriously as they take the mending of sewers.

4.10 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Banks, was quite right in saying when he moved this amendment that we debated a very similar one in the Committee stage and the Committee voted upon the matter. So we are looking again at an amendment on which your Lordships have already expressed a view. One of the difficulties is that there really is a misunderstanding about what the Bill says and a misunderstanding, if I may suggest it to the noble Lord, Lord Banks, and those who have supported him, over what his amendment says. I was very grateful for the intervention of my noble friend Lady Faithfull, with her experience as a local authority officer. She made clear that when she was director of social services she had to plan, just as local education authorities will undoubtedly have to plan their provision for children with special educational needs. Nobody is going to argue against that—certainly I am not going to argue against it—on this occasion or, indeed, on any other occasion.

The amendment before the House is asking for a development plan to be reviewed as necessary and for all such development plans to be submitted to the Secretary of State for his approval. As I think noble Lords will recognise if they consider the matter, this is a very different proposition. May I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Banks, that coming from his political party which believes very much in devolution to local authorities, this is something which local authorities would not particularly welcome. If they have got to obtain the approval of the Secretary of State to amendments to their plan at regular intervals, they will find this to be a quite time-consuming business. The same, I suspect, goes for the noble Baroness, Lady David, who said that she had discussed it with a director of education. No doubt he said he was making a plan, but whether or not he and his committee would like their plan to be submitted at intervals for the approval of the Secretary of State is a different matter.

There is therefore a misunderstanding about the amendment. I believe that many of those who have spoken in support of it would not wish the Secretary of State to have these kinds of powers in this particular case. The fact is that all past experience of development plans has been that as a long-term proposition they have been a waste of time. If, as happened with development plans in the further education schemes under the 1944 Act, they are not kept up to date, they either impose a rigidity which prevents a response to changing circumstances or they become so far divorced from reality that they are ignored.

In preparation for this amendment I looked again at what was said at Second Reading, and if I may quote my noble friend Lord Swinton I was very struck by what he said on that occasion. He described a school in his local authority and said of that school: It started off life as what might be described as just another ESN(M) school, but it was lucky enough to come into the building programme immediately after the Warnock Report and it got very rapidly changed. It opened its doors to its first children after Easter, and it draws them from a very scattered rural area". My noble friend went on to describe this and then he said: How does it differ from what noble Lords perhaps think of as a normal special school? To start with, it has a nursery unit [which] will be admitting children of two years old and upwards. That works in close co-operation with the children's unit at our local hospital. Indeed, the paediatrician in charge of that unit has given us an enormous amount of time and advice …".—[Official Report, 23/6/81; col. 1000.] Then he goes on to describe other matters. I quote this because it is a very good example of the very best of good practice.

When the Warnock Report came out, clearly the local education authority considered it and had an opportunity to implement something because of the flexible arrangements which could be made. If they had had to review their plan and get it altered, they might not have been able to do so, time would have gone by and the opportunity for this very interesting development would have been missed. This Bill builds on the very best practice of local authorities now, something which we want to encourage.

If we ask for a review every three years, I cannot see how this can be a success. Although we all recognise that there must be proper plans, they are not the kind of plans which need to be approved or rejected or reviewed by the department. I hope that, following the Bill, local authorities will not be spending a great deal of time and money upon planning to do things and thinking about planning to do things rather than upon putting into effect those things which we wish to see in the Bill. It is for these reasons—I have gone into the matter in some detail because I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Banks, having raised it for the second time, must feel very strongly about it—that I hope he will accept that there is no disagreement on principle between us, that we both want the Bill to proceed as effectively as possible and as quickly as possible but that his proposals might delay implementation rather than speed it on its way.

Lord Banks

My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, recognises that the two principal objections which she put forward to the original amendment at the Committee stage have been met in this amendment, so we are not now producing something which has been voted on in this form on a prior occasion. We took notice of the criticisms which were made and amended the amendment so that the reforms required by the criticisms would be incorporated into it.

The argument today is between those who feel that we are not going to get anything done to implement this important new departure uniformly and over the whole country unless an obligation of this kind is placed upon local authorities and those who feel that an obligation of this kind would, in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, be a millstone round the neck of those who are required to carry it out. I make no comment on the particular development plan which was a millstone round the noble Baroness's neck but I cannot see how what is required here should be a millstone for anybody, particularly when, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, and others pointed out, planning is going on already, there will inevitably be planning in each authority and if there is no planning then no advance can be made.

With regard to the criticism made by the noble Baroness, that it is undesirable that these plans should be presented to the Secretary of State for his approval, I see no reason why in the first instance, since this is a new departure of great importance, the Secretary of State should not be satisfied that all local authorities have produced such plans. It would then be up to the local authorities to amend the plans, as provided for in the amendment, as circumstances might dictate. This is a matter where there is a clear division of opinion and it would be right to test the opinion of the House. I should like to press this amendment to a Division.

4.18 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 4) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 73; Not-Contents, 106.

Allen of Fallowfield, L. Byers, L.
Amherst, E. Caradon, L.
Ardwick, L. Clifford of Chudleigh, L.
Balogh, L. Collison, L.
Banks, L.[Teller.] Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.
Barrington, V. Darcy (de Knayth), B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. David, B.
Bernstein, L. Davies of Leek, L.
Beswick, L. Davies of Penrhys, L.
Birk, B. Elwyn-Jones, L.
Bishopston, L. [Teller.] Ewart-Biggs, B.
Blyton, L. Fisher of Rednal, B.
Briginshaw, L. Gaitskell, B.
Brockway, L. Galpern, L.
Gladwyn, L. Phillips, B.
Grey, E. Plant, L.
Hale, L. Rochester, L.
Hampton, L. Seear, B.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Hooson, L. Shepherd, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Shinwell, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Simon, V.
Jacques, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Jeger, B. Stewart of Fulham, L.
John-Mackie, L. Stone, L.
Leatherland, L. Strabolgi, L.
Listowel, E. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Longford, E. Underhill, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Walston, L.
Masham of Ilton, B. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Milverton, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Northfield, L. Wigoder, L.
Oram, L. Willis, L.
Pargiter, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Peart, L.
Ailesbury, M. Kinloss, Ly.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Kinnaird, L.
Alport, L. Lane-Fox, B.
Avon, E. Lawrence, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Bellwin, L. Lloyd, L.
Belstead, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Bessborough, E. Lyell, L.
Boardman, L. McFadzean, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Caccia, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mancroft, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Marley, L.
Cathcart, E. Monk Bretton, L.
Chalfont, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Chelwood, L. Northchurch, B.
Clwyd, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Cockfield, L. Orkney, E.
Colville of Culross, V. Porritt, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Radnor, E.
Cottesloe, L. Rankeillour, L.
Craigavon, V. Redcliffe-Maud, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Reigate, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Renton, L.
Daventry, V. Renwick, L.
Davidson, V. Rochdale, V.
DeFreyne, L. Romney, E.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Rugby, L.
Derwent, L. St.Davids, V.
Digby, L. Saltoun, Ly.
Drumalbyn, L. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Eccles, V. Seebohm, L.
Effingham, E. Sempill, Ly.
Ellenborough L. Sharples, B.
Elliot of Harwood B. Skelmersdale, L.
Elton, L. Soames, L.
Faithfull, B. Somers, L.
Ferrers, E. Stamp, L.
Ferrier, L. Stradbroke, E.
Fortescue, E. Strathcarron, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Gainford, L. Strathspey, L.
Gisborough, L. Sudeley, L.
Gormanston, V. Swinfen, L.
Gridley, L. Swinton, E.
Hailsham of St. Marylebone, L. Trefgarne, L.
Trumpington, B.
Henley, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hillingdon, L. Vickers, B.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Vivian, L.
Hornsby-Smith, B. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Ward of Witley, V.
Ilchester, E. Young, B.
Ironside, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 not moved.]

Clause 5 [Assessment of special educational needs.]:

4.27 p.m.

Baroness Jeger moved Amendment No. 7: Page 4, line 28, at end insert ("in the form and language known by the local education authority to be understood by the parent").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment asks that discussions about a child who is being considered under this clause shall be held in the form and language known by the local education authority to be understood by the parent. I would emphasise to your Lordships that we use the words "form and language" because we recognise that these difficulties and barriers are not purely linguistic. They are a matter of deeper understanding of culture, idiom, mores and religion and so on. It will be well known that it is easy for children from ethnic minorities, particularly those who were not born in this country, to be in some sort of cultural confusion, to suffer some loss of identity and to be slower in learning than children who have always lived in this country, and that, sadly for very many bright children, this has caused them to be underrated so far as their intelligence is concerned.

There has been much evidence of this, and I shall not repeat to the House matters which I am sure your Lordships are already aware of. But I should like to remind the House that the Warnock Committee, which is the basis of this Bill, gave some considerable concern to this. It is agreed by us all of course that we want the maximum involvement of parents in the case of every child, but, in the case of parents with difficulties of language and difficulties of understanding the sort of society in which they are now living, there should be a duty on the local authority to deal with that.

Again, this ought not to be necessary because one would wish to take it for granted that a conscientious local authority would obviously do this, but recent surveys have shown that hitherto this has not happened in practice in other connections and that, particularly in cases of Asian women who have not been living in this country, there is less involvement with their children's schooling and in discussions with the authorities than in other communities where there are no language barriers. This has been allowed to happen, although I know of some authorities where a great deal of effort has been made to communicate with families where there are not only language difficulties but difficulties arising from the pattern of their lives and their cultural understanding.

The Warnock Report said on page 64: Parents must be consulted and their views given full weight in the assessment of their children's needs and this is especially true where decisions can touch deep-seated sensitivities". I think that we would all agree with that. Furthermore, on page 76, the Warnock Report stated: Families from ethnic minority groups are likely to face particular difficulty in obtaining help and support for children with disabilities or serious difficulties through lack of knowledge of what is available and, in some cases, language difficulties. More seriously, many professionals lack knowledge of the special problems that result from differences in cultural patterns". Therefore, I think that it is a fair point for us to make as regards this amendment that there shall be with the parent, and involved in the discussion if the parent so wishes, not just an interpreter but someone who the parent feels he can trust, who can accompany him at interviews in connection not only with statements but with medical examinations and other consultations so that some mutual understanding can be established. Again, this is a matter which, by putting it in the Bill, we feel will be called to the attention of authorities who may not so far have done all that they might have done in this connection. It will also give more authority to those councils which are taking trouble about this aspect.

I am sure that there is great sympathy and understanding on all sides of the House for what we are trying to do here. We have seen some terrible results of our failures of the past. We want to try to plan for a more hopeful future so far as many, many thousands of these British children—as they are now—are concerned. I very much hope that it will be possible in that spirit for the amendment to be accepted. I beg to move.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I should like to support the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, who I think put up an excellent case for the ethnic minorities. The noble Baroness drew attention to the words "form and language known by the local education authority to be understood by the parent". I think that it is important for us to realise that many parents are completely bewildered when they have to meet officials of any description. Not all parents are equally knowledgeable or "pushy". Therefore, perhaps the approach to the assessment—if we accept what the noble Baroness says—must be in a way that the parent really understands. Here I am talking particularly of those parents in the community who want the best for their children but who are perhaps not the most vocal and not always the most intelligent group. However, they want what we all want, which is the best for their children. Therefore, the form of language must be readily understood.

I should like at this stage to compliment the noble Baroness, Lady Young, because I think she has accepted this point because in many of the new pamphlets that have gone out from the Department to the social security offices it is stated in quite clear English, readily understood by applicants who have to go there, how to use the service which is provided. I should like to join the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, in saying that perhaps that same approach could be undertaken in this Bill.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will know that local education authorities are very much aware of the need for parents who do not understand English or Welsh to be properly informed about what is happening to their child. Indeed, in principle I accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, has said in speaking to the amendment, because I am sure that what she is enunciating and, indeed, what the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, is saying, are examples of the very best of good practice.

However, I am sure that both noble Baronesses if they consider the matter will realise that there is a practical problem about the amendment because of the wide range of mother tongues which can now be found in this country. The noble Baroness will, I am sure, have read some of the inspectorate's reports. She will know that there can be schools in which there can be up to 30 languages. It would, therefore, be very difficult for a local education authority to be quite sure that it could translate into the appropriate language what it was trying to say to the parents. However, what we can and do expect is that a local education authority will make every effort, particularly where it knows that there are language difficulties, to communicate with the parents.

What I think is most important is that what it is saying should be understandable to the parents. That is the important factor. In that regard local community leaders are often willing to help, particularly where there is a language barrier between the authority and the parent. I believe that very considerable efforts are being made by education authorities to communicate with non-English or Welsh-speaking parents. We support that activity. We believe that this is an area where the possible problems of communication cannot be realistically covered by legislation. it is an area for guidance.

I should like to assure the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, that in post-legislative guidance we shall certainly include a reference to this problem because we recognise that it is very important. The Bill stresses in many places the importance of bringing parents into discussions and enabling them to take part in the discussions on their children's future education, both at the time when a statement might be made and when the statement has been made and at times of reassessment. It is important that the parents should understand that. It is not something that we shall forget, but we believe that it is an area which is best left for guidance rather than primary legislation, because exactly how it will be done could well vary from authority to authority. What is important is that it should be done and done effectively. That is why we think guidance rather than primary legislation is the right way of dealing with the matter. I hope that with that assurance the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, I appreciate what the noble Minister has said and I know that she is the last person in the House to be complacent about the situation. However, it is a fact that the Warnock Committee found that the situation was not totally satisfactory, and there are references to the disabilities and serious difficulties which ethnic minority groups are suffering due to lack of understanding of language and of resources available. I do not feel that we should push that on one side and say, "Well, we hope that by sending out some guidance things will go better now". We put down the amendment because of the situation as we understand it to be at present.

However, I appreciate that the noble Baroness is well seized of the problem and I am sure that she will do her best when sending out guidance to ensure that this point is taken care of. We thought that an amendment would be an encouragement to the good authorities and perhaps also a bit of a spur to those that are not trying hard enough. However, in view of what the noble Baroness has said—and I assure her that we shall watch the situation carefully—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Drumalbyn)

My Lords, the next amendment is Amendment No. 8. If Amendment No. 8 is carried, I cannot call Amendment No. 10.

4.39 p.m.

Baroness Young moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 5, leave out lines 3 to 6 and insert ("assess the educational needs of the child concerned." ("(4A) Where a local education authority decide to make an assessment under this section they shall notify the child's parent in writing of their decision and of their reasons for making it.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 8. This is a drafting amendment. Its purpose is to clarify what is the decision referred to in subsection (4)(b) as it now stands which the local education authority will notify to the parent. The amendment makes clear that this decision is the decision to make an assessment of the child. I beg to move.

Lord Renton moved, as an amendment to the amendment, Amendment No. 9: At end insert ("and of the parent's right to see all the professional reports and other evidence on which the assessment was made.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 9. I think that my noble friend Lady Young is being a little unfair to herself when she called her amendment just a drafting amendment. It goes a little beyond that, and we are very grateful for it as far as it goes. But I suggest that it does not go nearly far enough. I suggest that we should have added to it the words in Amendment No. 9: and of the parent's right to see all the professional reports and other evidence on which the assessment was made". I would remind your Lordships that at the Clause 5 stage of the Bill we are perhaps dealing with a very early stage in a child's life; the child may be only in his or her first few months or even weeks. In the National Society for the Mentally Handicapped we think that it is essential that parents should see the information and reports on which the assessment of special educational needs was based. If Amendment No. 9 were accepted, that would be achieved.

Another way of achieving it would be by accepting Amendment No. 14, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth). That would achieve the same end in a rather more detailed way than mine; some might think a better way. Speaking for myself and having consulted the noble Baroness, I rather prefer the more simple and succinct way which is proposed in Amendment No. 9 and which I think achieves the object.

As I say, we feel strongly that information must be given to the parents, especially medical information. During the Committee stage I said that several doctors had told me that if their reports had to be disclosed in every case to parents, those reports would not contain everything that was relevant. In saying that, the doctors were referring, and I was referring, to that small minority of cases not of mental handicap but of psychological disturbance, in which it might be thought embarrassing that the parents should be told the whole truth about themselves or the home conditions which led to the assessment.

However, having had time to reflect and take advice about this since the Committee stage, I have come to the conclusion that only a very small minority of doctors would behave like that; that only a very small minority of doctors would fail to make complete reports containing everything that was relevant; and those who failed would probably be the doctors who were not sure of themselves. I speak as the son of a doctor; I very nearly became one, and then realised that I would not be as good a doctor as my father.

However that may be, I suggest that the risk of some doctors failing to disclose in their reports is a risk that we must take. As was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth) at the Committee stage, in the United States parents have had this right for six years. It is now established and I understand that it works well; the medical profession there accept it and they co-operate fully. If my noble friend the Minister of State has been advised by her department or by the DHSS not to agree to parents being given full access to medical reports, I trust that she will give us the full reasons for that advice, if she dares to disclose it. I know that it is perhaps a difficult matter for her to have to disclose it, because there is such a thing as doctors being sued, and all kinds of complications could arise. However, I do not think that any of those complications ought to deprive the parents of their right.

It is especially important when the assessment reveals that the child—who may look quite normal, as our own daughter did—is mentally handicapped. That is a great shock to parents. They should surely be given full access to the medical information on which the assessment is based when they have been told, "Your child is mentally handicapped and will never be normal".

I do not think that I need press this any further. The case seems to me to be so strong that I trust your Lordships will accept it. I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I should like to give the noble Lord, Lord Renton, my fullest support. Indeed, noble Lords will observe that I have added my name to his amendment. In fact, I much prefer it to my own. Not only is his simpler, but it is also much stronger, because it goes all the way in demanding total access to all information. The noble Lord has already referred to the United States of America where, under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act 1974, which is Public Law 93 to 380, all parents have the right to inspect and review all official records, files and data directly related to their children. I should like to stress that these specifically include psychological tests, health data, family background information and verified reports of serious and recurrent behaviour patterns. So the extreme cases, which are the argument against the case for total access in this country, are not excluded there. I think that there is much truth in the view that once one allows any exceptions, the case is lost. The only satisfactory answer is total freedom of access to any information that a parent requests.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, I, too, should like briefly to support this amendment because I think that somewhere in this Bill parents must have the right to see documents, otherwise I do not understand how they can possibly be of the real help that they should be to the professionals who apparently (although I do not believe that it is always true) would wish to withhold this information.

I would almost go as far as to say that the parent is of prime importance and, having seen the assessment, would almost become a part of that assessment because, having seen what the professionals said, the parents' comments would be of such vast importance that they could not possibly be ignored. As it is at present written in the Bill—and I appreciate the long amendment that the noble Baroness has tabled—there is a tremendous amount of consultation. We must acknowledge that that is a very good thing and a tremendous improvement. But I do not think that it is quite good enough. I think that there must be a real sight—whatever harm it may do on a few occasions—of the documents as they might pass between professional and professional, as—and this has already been said—is carried out with pretty good success in the United States of America. I think that that is absolutely vital.

There is another area which I should like to mention, which I do not think I mentioned during the Committee stage. It is well known to medical people—certainly to psychiatrists and psychologists—that to leave an element of doubt in anyone's mind is an awful thing to do. You often hear of people who are frightened that they have such and such a disease and a great weight is lifted off their shoulders when they are told even that they have it, and certainly if they do not. I think that, if this weight of professional papers—I do not mean "weight" in any large way, for there may be a very small amount of papers—is not to be on view, there will be a perpetual doubt left in the minds of the parents. I think that must be absolutely wrong; wrong from the parent's point of view and wrong from the point of view of the relationship that there should be between the parent and the authority. I most strongly support this amendment for those reasons.

Viscount Barrington

My Lords, I would support this amendment. I can see that there are two points of view as to whether parents should have any say in this or not, but if, as I strongly believe, they should, I cannot see that it could possibly be fairly done without an amendment of this sort, by which they are allowed to see what goes on. I can see no objection to that. I support the amendment very strongly.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, I feel that all of us must have been extremely moved by the remarks of my noble friend Lord Renton; obviously he feels most sincerely and deeply on this matter. But I noted that he has a very strong belief in the good practice of doctors, their willingness to be frank, whether or not there is this imposition on the revelations they have to make. I wonder how wise it is for the parents to be enabled to see these documents if this means that the reduction of the frankness in the confidential reports is going to be of disservice to the children themselves. I should be extremely interested to know what my noble friend the Minister has to say on that aspect.

4.52 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I should like to follow what the noble Baroness has just said. While I go along with feeling that the parents ought to have the information, I think we have to recognise that it is not just the general practitioner or the hospital consultant; this is going to be a multi-discipline team making this assessment, and one would feel that they might not always come down 100 per cent. together. I suppose it is like being a member of Her Majesty's Government's Cabinet; you do not agree with all the decisions all of the time, but you go along with them because you are a member of a collective team.

What worries me a little is that it might militate even against the child being assessed. That would cause me considerable anxiety, because they might feel that this is an over-anxious parent who will be, can I say quite sympathetically?, clutching at every straw. I know how difficult this situation is. It might mean that the multi-discipline group may feel that they will be doing the child no good at all by giving that information, if they are thinking of the benefit of the child and taking the child as being of paramount importance. So while I have sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is saying, if we remember that this is a multi-discipline group and not one particular person, I think we should be able to have greater faith in the findings of the report.

Lord Robbins

My Lords, what decision is to be made in this case? One can imagine all sorts of anomalies and embarrassments, but surely we should think twice before we take steps to put on the statute book any prescription which undermines the prime responsibility of the parents and their right to know.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, very briefly, as one who supported this principle at an earlier stage, I would merely say how strongly I support the noble Lord, Lord Renton, on this amendment. There is just one point I should like to make, and I make it as a doctor who has had some involvement in the preparations and presentation of reports of this kind. I accept that with total disclosure of this kind, which I recommend, there is the risk occasionally of a parent being disturbed or distressed by seeing the report. I accept that. But if that is the case, I say so be it. I believe that is the price we must pay for avoiding, not the risk but the absolute certainty, of very severe damage should there be a general feeling that somehow these reports are clouded in secrecy and cannot be seen. I think that is where the balance lies, and it is for that reason that I support the noble Lord, Lord Renton.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, to have records which are kept secret from parents who have undertaken the responsibility, with all its extra trials and stresses, of bringing up a handicapped child cannot be useful for good relationships between professional people and parents. For too long there have been, sadly, barriers which have sometimes built up between professionals and parents, a "them" and "us" situation. The parents should be part of the team, and this has been mentioned. When a multidiscipline team is involved, I feel more strongly that the parents should be part of this team, and that this will help the child.

Some time ago, I attended a conference organised by doctors at which medical records were discussed, and it was shown how badly some records are kept, others being kept very well. Perhaps the fact that parents were given the right to see these records would bring the standards up. Some doctors felt that patients should have the right to keep their own records. Personally, knowing how some professionals lose records, I think that the records should be duplicated, one for the parents and one for the professional.

So much responsibility over the years has been taken away from parents that they shrug their shoulders and say, "The State will provide". Having read the Committee stage proceedings on this argument, I see that many argued against open access to records on the basis that what was in them might upset the parents. If you have a handicapped child, you have had to get over that in the initial shock and dismay. It is no good hiding anything. You have to pick up the bits and learn to do the best for the child and the whole family. Every bit of information is necessary. Living with disability or handicap needs all the co-operation and teamwork possible.

If there are cases of suspected child abuse or other difficulties, this information can be passed by professionals by other means than by writing it in the record. I feel very strongly that the parents should be part of the multi-discipline team, and therefore support the amendment.

Lord Digby

My Lords, I should like to support the main amendment, No. 8, and oppose my noble friend Lord Renton's amendment. We went into this in great detail at Committee stage, and if I remember rightly, despite the noble Baroness's offer to look at it, the amendment was pressed to a Division and was lost at that stage.

Lord Renton

My Lords, if my noble friend would allow me, it is quite true that there was a Division on a somewhat similar amendment, but not on this amendment, which indeed was not possible at that stage. Indeed, I voted with the Government at that stage, because of the undertaking which my noble friend had given. Now that I have seen the result of her undertaking, as I said, I am far from satisfied.

Lord Digby

Yes, my Lords, but I think we must look at Amendment No. 15 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, because, as I see it, the undertaking was that under Clause 7 she would bring in this amendment that parents could have meetings. I personally am absolutely convinced that, rather than seeing all the professional documents, a meeting with the local authority officials concerned is of far greater value.

Baroness David

My Lords, there is one other point that has not been made in relation to this, and that is the strength of feeling of the voluntary organisations and the associations. We have to remember that those associations and organisations are made up very much of the parents of children who have these special educational needs. We should bear that in mind when considering how we vote on this amendment, which I should like to support.

Lord Milverton

; My Lords, I should like to support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Renton. Parents would be able to help far more if they had these reports. You can get a far better idea by reading a report than by just listening to the professionals. If one has in any way been associated with anybody who has a child with any kind of disability, as has been said already, one knows that all the help possible is needed for those parents. I am sure that the majority of parents would be helped in this way. Therefore, I fully support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Renton.

Lord Bernstein

My Lords, can the Minister give me some information? The last line of Amendment No. 8 says that the local education authority shall give "their reasons for making" their assessment. If this amendment is carried, it will mean that they will not have to rewrite what the professional reports have stated, otherwise somebody will have to rewrite the reports. We know from experience in this House what happens when people get involved in trying to write an amendment, let alone writing something that becomes part of the law. I therefore support this amendment. I hope that the Minister will realise that most people listening to this debate who have had any experience will find it agreeable if they find a little compassion on the other side of the House.

5.2 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the House will not be surprised to hear that I view with some regret that my noble friend Lord Renton has put down this amendment before the House today. It is true that we did not debate this amendment at the Committee stage, but this amendment is concerned with the whole issue of confidentiality, and there are a number of other amendments before the House on this same principle. We debated that principle at Committee stage and the Committee divided upon it. Because I gave an undertaking that the Government would bring forward an amendment, the Committee did not support the amendment before it.

As my noble friend Lord Digby has rightly said, Amendment No. 15 is the Government's response to this issue, which has been gone into in very considerable detail. This matter was discussed at considerable length in another place, and the issue of confidentiality was discussed and voted upon in your Lordships' House at Committee. My noble friend Lord Renton has already indicated in moving this amendment that he discussed it with a number of doctors, who said to him that if all of their reports were disclosed to parents it could well be in the case of some doctors that important information would not be put into reports. He said he believed that this would only be in a minority of cases. I hope that he would be right about that, because at the end of the day what we all want to do is what is in the best interests of the child.

My guess is—although I accept that this is not something that one can prove, and I recognise the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, who has referred to this, as have other noble Lords—that if this amendment were to be carried it could well be that medical reports would not be such effective documents as they are now because the doctor would know that they were being shown to other people, and probably he would, or might, therefore not put so much into the report as he would otherwise do. That actually defeats the object of the exercise, because the parent still will not know what it was that the doctor really thought.

The Government Amendment No. 15 says instead—because we recognise that parents are anxious to have as much information as possible—that parents would have the opportunity to discuss their statement with one or other of the professionals who have been responsible for it. May I now explain my amendment because I think it would help the debate at this stage? We have drafted an amendment in very precise detail and at some length in order to cover fully what we want to achieve.

Noble Lords will note that local education authorities in serving the draft statement upon parents will also be required to explain their rights to them. Where a parent disagrees with any part of the proposed statement he will have the right within 15 days from service of the draft statement to make representations to the LEA and to request a meeting with an LEA officer. The purpose of such a meeting would be to allow for constructive general discussion about the content of the draft statement.

The meeting may be sufficient to clarify certain issues for the parent, or it will enable the LEA to ascertain the nature of parental concern about any aspects of the assessment. Where the parent disagrees with any part of the assessment of his child, he may within 15 days of his meeting with the LEA officer require the LEA to arrange a further meeting, or meetings, at which to discuss the aspects of the assessment which concern him. The LEA will be under a duty to arrange such meetings as they consider will enable the parent to discuss his concern either with one or more of the professionals who gave their advice on those aspects of the assessment which concern the parent, or with the person, or persons, who in the LEA's judgment can appropriately discuss these matters. It will be necessary for the LEA to exercise judgment in the arrangements of meetings if they are properly to understand the parents' needs and to decide how best to serve their interests.

This exercise of judgment cannot be interpreted as giving the LEAs the discretion to ignore parents' wishes. It is important however that the LEA has some flexibility to arrange a meeting with an appropriate person other than the professional who gave the relevant advice. This is because circumstances may arise where the actual professional concerned is unobtainable, or for some other unavoidable reason—for example, because he is no longer in the LEA's employ or that of the health authority.

The LEA's duty is such that the parent must be enabled to go back to the source of assessment, or as close to the source as possible, and as necessary, to enable effective and competent discussion, which may be of a technical and detailed nature, to take place. I am sure that the House will have noted that where a meeting is arranged with the parent he will have 15 days from the date fixed for the meeting to make representations, or further representations. If more than one meeting has been arranged the period of 15 days will start from the date fixed for the last of these meetings. I hope that those noble Lords who were concerned that 15 days was not sufficient for the making of representations on the statement will agree that parents' interests are fully served under the terms of this amendment.

I suggest that this provides comprehensive rights for parents and allows for their full involvement in the whole process of assessment, and that is why I commend this amendment to your Lordships as introducing a realistic provision into the Bill which I venture to suggest is a great improvement. It will be of particular benefit to the concerned parent and will, I believe, be far better than the approach of giving parents access to professional reports.

The noble Lord, Lord Renton, asked me what advice I have had on that subject. He is right, I have had advice, which indicates that it could well be that some parents getting a professional report would find it difficult to understand what it meant. We can all think of examples of that. There would be some parents who, as the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said, could be upset by reading the report.

Those are matters about which we could argue at great length, but I do not believe, serious and important though they are, that they are the most important. I believe the most important argument is that if parents and others had the right of direct access to all professional reports, the nature of the professional reports would change, and that would not necessarily be in the best interests of the child.

The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, said that American experience showed that it worked very well indeed. It is always very difficult to make international comparisons because their law on education is not precisely the same as ours. I must tell her that I am advised that under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act 1975, which is Public Law 94 to 142, parents have a right access to educational records only, and a medical report is not a required part of assessment in the United States. We are not therefore comparing like with like.

The noble Lord, Lord Bernstein, who intervened at the end of the debate, seemed to believe that we should have to rewrite my Amendment No. 8. Probably he has not had the advantage of taking part in all the deliberations on the Bill, otherwise he would know that I was right in saying that my Amendment No.8 was primarily a drafting amendment which makes it absolutely clear that when a LEA decides to make an assessment under Clause 5, it will notify the child's parents in writing of its decision and the reasons for making it. What my noble friend Lord Renton is asking is that the parents shall have the complete professional reports which lay behind the statement, and therefore it is a quite separate issue. What is right is that the parents should have the statement and the reasons for it; that they should have the opportunity, if they are dissatisfied with the statement, to talk to one of the professionals about it, and that is what my Amendment No. 15 does.

I understand very well the strength of feeling in the House and, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, said, the strength of feeling on the matter coming from voluntary organisations, because of course I have received letters on the subject. It is a matter to which we in the department have given a very great deal of thought because we want to try to meet the serious concern that is felt and to do what is in the best interests of the children. We believe the arrangements we are suggesting will give parents the information they need. There is, after all, nothing to prevent a professional giving all this information to parents. He can do so and many will do so, and many could be encouraged to do so. But that is a very different proposition from saying that every professional must give his reports to parents when required. Talk about them, yes, and talk about their concerns; but to oblige them would, I think, lead us into other difficulties that perhaps we do not immediately foresee.

I hope for those reasons that my noble friend Lord Renton will feel that we have met his concerns. I am bound to tell him that if he decides to press his amendment I shall urge my noble friends to vote against it, because I do not believe that what he is suggesting is necessarily in the best interests of the children concerned; and I hope the House will recognise that the Government have gone as far as they can in my amendment in trying to meet the very real concerns of parents.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I wish to thank those who have supported my amendment to the amendment of my noble friend Lady Young, and I acknowledge the doubts expressed by two noble Baronesses. It would be a great pity if the decision on this matter depended on a misunderstanding on the part of my noble friend Lady Young and myself of each other's views. She really said that the matter was decided in Committee because the Government won on an amendment which had been moved to Clause 5 by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy. I voted with the Government on that occasion, not because I thought the matter was being concluded as a matter of principle but because my noble friend Lady Young had given an undertaking to consider the matter further. That being so, I did not think it was right for an amendment to be pressed against her at that stage.

My noble friend made it clear that her undertaking related to Clause 7 rather than to Clause 5. However, she moved an amendment to Clause 5; and in that debate we had said it was important to get this question of right of access correct at the assessment stage, with which Clause 5 deals, as well as at the statement and appeals stage, with which Clause 7 deals. When, later, we came to Clause 7, I shall be moving another amendment to deal with the situation which arises then. As I say, I hope we shall not base our decision on this amendment on a misunderstanding of that kind.

I concede to my noble friend, who obviously has had better advice than I have, a point in regard to the experience in the United States. In view of what she said, I accept that that does not apply to medical reports but to educational reports only, and therefore—assuming the Minister is right, and I have no reason to doubt it—I must withdraw my argument on that part of the case. But the rest of my noble friend's case depends on two things. The first is the advice she has received, which is, naturally, advice given as a result of consultations with the medical profession. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, himself a doctor, gave a good answer to that part of my noble friend's case. One can well understand the difficulties and embarrassments that could sometimes occur so far as the medical profession is concerned, and I conceded that when moving my amendment.

The other part of the Minister's case was that some parents could not take it, to paraphrase what she said, and that in such cases more harm than good might be done. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, had the answer. We should not have a feeling in regard to the provisions of the Bill that there will be a cloak of professional secrecy which prevents parents learning the truth about their own unfortunate handicapped children, and that is what we shall be voting on. I regret that I cannot withdraw my amendment, and I think it right that the House should now take a vote on the principle of confidentiality.

5.19 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 9) to the amendment (No. 8) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 88; Not-Contents, 93.

Airedale, L. Hunt, L.
Allen of Fallowfield, L. Ingleby, V.
Amherst, E. Jacques, L.
Ardwick, L. Jeger, B.
Aylestone, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Banks L. John-Mackie, L.
Barrington V. Kilmarnock, L.
Bernstein, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Beswick, L. Lawrence. L.
Birk, B. Leatherland L.
Bishopston, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Blyton, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L. [Teller.]
Brockway, L.
Byers, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Collison, L. Meston, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Milverton, L.
Crowther-Hunt, L. Mishcon, L.
Darcy(de Knayth), B. Molloy, L.
David, B. Nathan, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Ogmore, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Oram, L.
Diamond, L. Peart, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Galpern, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Gladwyn, L. Porritt, L.
Grey E. Radnor, E.
Hale, L. Renton, L. [Teller.]
Halsbury, E. Renwick, L.
Hampton, L. Robbins, L.
Hanworth, V. Rochester, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Saltoun, Ly.
Hillingdon, L. Seear B.
Hooson, L. Sefton of Garston L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Shinwell, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Simon, V.
Stamp, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Stewart of Alvechurch, B. Whaddon, L.
Stewart of Fulham, L. Wigoder, L.
Taylor of Mansfield, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Tordoff, L. Winstanley, L.
Underhill, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Wallace of Coslany, L. Young of Darlington, L.
Walston, L.
Ailesbury, M. Killearn, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Lane-Fox, B.
Ampthill, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Bellwin, L. Lloyd, L.
Belstead, L. Lyell, L.
Boardman, L. McFadzean, L.
Buxton of Alsa, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Carrington, L. Mancroft, L.
Cathcart, E. Marley L.
Chelwood, L. Marshall of Leeds L.
Cockfield, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Cottesloe, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Crathorne, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Mottistone, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Daventry, V. Northchurch, B.
Davidson, V. Nugent of Guildford, L.
de Clifford, L. Orkney, E.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Penrhyn, L.
Derwent, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Digby, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Rankeillour, L.
Eccles, V. Redcliffe-Maude, L.
Ellenborough, L. Rochdale, V.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Romney, E.
Elton, L. St. Davids, V.
Fairfax of Cameron, L. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Faithfull, B. Sharples, B.
Ferrers, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Ferrier, L. Soames, L.
Fortescue, E. Stradbroke, E.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Strathcarron, L.
Gainford, L. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Strathspey, L.
Gisborough, L. Sudeley, L.
Glenkinglas, L. Swinfen, L.
Gormanston, V. Swinton, E.
Gridley, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Trefgarne, L.
Trumpington, B.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Henley, L. Vickers, B.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Vivian, L.
Hornsby-Smith, B. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Hunt of Tanworth, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Hylton-Foster, B. Young, B.
Ilchester, E.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment to the amendment disagreed to accordingly.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 10 to 11 not moved.]

5.29 p.m.

Baroness Young moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 5, line 11, at end insert— ("(5A) In a case falling within subsection (5) above the local education authority shall notify the parent in writing of his right of appeal under that subsection.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is consequential on the Government's amendment to Clause 7, which I shall move later and to which I have spoken. The amendment to Clause 7 provides that the LEA shall notify the parent of his right to appeal against the special educational provisions specified in the statement. In our view it followed that, since the parent is so notified under Clause 7, we should similarly provide for him to be informed of his right of appeal to the Secretary of State under Clause 5—where the LEA has decided that it is not required to determine the special educational provisions which should be made for his child and thus not to make a statement. I beg to move.

Lord Digby

My Lords, do I understand the noble Baroness to say that we also are discussing here Amendment No. 15?

Baroness Young

No, my Lords; I shall move Amendment No. 15 at the appropriate time.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 13: Page 5, line 20, at end insert ("and the parent may appeal to the Secretary of State").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I moved a similar amendment at the Committee stage. It would enable the parent to appeal to the Secretary of State if the local authority decided not to make an assessment. The Minister was good enough to discuss the matter with us when we had a meeting with her and her officials between the two days of the Committee stage. However, having reread what was said in Committee, I am not totally happy, and I have a question to put. First, I accept that on most occasions when the local authority decides not to assess it will be because it has been persuaded by representations made by the parent. But in her reply to me in Committee the Minister said, at col. 551: In the rare cases where a local authority decides for some other reason to leave off the assessment, the parents have the right to ask for assessment under Clause 9. In those circumstances, an appeal to the Secretary of State would be unnecessary". But under Clause 9 there is no absolute right to an assessment since our amendment to it in Committee was not accepted. As the position stands, the local authority does not have to comply if, in its opinion, the request is unreasonable. So to cover the, admittedly rare, cases I can see no objection to writing the right of appeal into the clause. I beg to move.

Baroness Young

My Lords, in preparing for the discussion on the amendment, I too, reread the discussion that we had on a similar amendment at the Committee stage. The noble Baroness is quite right in saying that there are two circumstances where the right of appeal might appear to be necessary. As she quite rightly says, the first circumstance is if, after serving notice of assessment under Clause 5, the LEA decides not to proceed, and that would normally be because it has been persuaded by the representations of the parents. Therefore, it is unnecessary to think of a right of appeal for the parents in that case. I then went on to say that if the LEA, having embarked on the assessment, decides for some other reason not to continue it, the parents have the right to ask for an assessment under Clause 9. As the noble Baroness has said both in Committee and now, under Clause 9 the LEA has the opportunity to say that the request for an assessment is unreasonable.

I think that we are all right under Clause 9, because it would be very difficult for the local education authority to say that the parents' request for an assessment was unreasonable when it had itself started the proceedings for the assessment and had decided to stop it. So it could not in any sense be regarded as what lawyers might term as a vexatious appeal. I believe that if the LEA decided to break off the assessment, the parent invoked Clause 9 and asked for it to be continued and the local authority said, "No", then the parents themselves ought to write to the department to indicate their dissatisfaction, because clearly that would be a case where the parents could not be regarded as acting unreasonably. I think that the safeguard is there under Clause 9. The noble Baroness has raised an important point, and I hope she will recognise that, in the light of the way that the procedures would operate, her point would be met.

Baroness David

My Lords, I think I am fairly satisfied with the Minister's reply, and so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.34 p.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth) moved Amendment No. 14: After Clause 5, insert the following new clause:

("Disclosure of records

.—(1) Where a local education authority make an assessment of a child in accordance with the provisions of section 5 of this Act, the parent shall have, and be informed of, the right to sec all the professional reports and other items of evidence on which an assessment is made and on which a statement, if any, is based except any professional report or other item of evidence covered by the provisions of subsection (2) below.

(2) A professional report or other item of evidence that need not be disclosed to a parent is any report or other item of evidence associated with an assessment of or a statement on his child in respect of which the author states in writing to the local education authority concerned that its disclosure to the parent would not in his opinion be in the best interests of the child or of the parent himself.

(3) In respect of any item withheld under the provisions of subsection (2) above the parent shall be informed in writing of the name of the author of that item.

(4) In respect of any professional report or other item of evidence referred to in this section the parent shall have, and be informed of, the right to discuss the contents of the item with its author or other appropriate person.

(5) The parent shall be informed in writing of the name of any person to whom any professional report or other item of evidence referred to in this section is shown or otherwise disclosed.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 14. I did not explain this amendment when the noble Lord, Lord Renton, was moving Amendment No. 9 because I purposely did not want to get the two amendments muddled up and so cloud the issue. First, I should like to say to the Minister that I am very grateful to her for tabling her amendment to Clause 7 in good time for us to study it, and I am grateful also to the department for sending me a copy. I am only sorry that Amendment No. 14 was not available earlier, but there were genuine difficulties because we have been trying very seriously to try to meet the objections to earlier amendments on this subject.

I feel that Clause 5 is the right place for the proposed provision, so that parents of children on whom no statements are made would also have right of access to information, and therefore I welcome the Minister's Amendment No. 12, which precisely underlines the point. How can a parent decide whether to appeal, and how can he appeal successfully if he does not know the full facts?

Amendment No. 14 is weaker in two areas than the amendment that I moved and the other amendments to which I spoke in Committee; and one of these areas is very important. It is subsection (2), which provides that a report need not be disclosed if the author states to the LEA in writing that its disclosure would not in his opinion be in the best interests of the child or the parent. I think that that is in line with the Warnock Committee's view quoted by the Minister at col. 543 of the Official Report. The Minister then added—and she said the same thing again today— … here I believe … we have the nub of the problem: what is to be in the child's best interests". I believe that subsection (2) overcomes that problem.

The amendment is also weaker in that parents would not have the right to control circulation of reports. This is a point that the organisations concerned with the handicapped supported very strongly. Under this amendment—subsection (5)—the parents would merely be informed of the names of the people who see the reports, but I believe that that would go some way to ensuring that only those people who need to see the reports will do so.

In one aspect at least the amendment is an improvement on the earlier amendments on which I spoke in Committee. At col. 543 the Minister made the point that, talking to the professional involved would be … more helpful than reading the report". While I still feel that, if he wishes, the parent should see the report, I entirely agree about the merits of being able to talk to the professional involved, and under subsection (4) of the amendment the parent is given the right to discuss the contents of reports, both those reports that they are allowed to see and those covered by subsection (2), with the author or other appropriate person. Here the situation is left flexible, as it is in the Minister's amendment in Clause 7. The Minister said that the author might move to another area, and I feel that the point is also important because the author might not be the person most capable of discussing things both tactfully and truthfully.

At col. 544 of the Official Report, the Minister said that the Government were anxious to improve the communication of information to the parent, but without endangering the frankness of professional reports". She has re-echoed that fear today, and it has also been expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox. I feel that the frankness would not be endangered because disclosure is limited under subsection (2), but I hope that subsection (3), whereby the parent will learn the name of the author of any report to which he cannot have access, will lead to more carefully written reports.

I should like to return to the American experience that access to reports has resulted in better reports. The Minister said that the Education of All Handicapped Children Act related to educational records only, but I am not quite as convinced as is the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that parents do not have the right to all medical reports as well in relation to their children's education, because the Act that I quoted was the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act 1974. That Act specifies that they have the right to inspect all things in the child's cumulative folder, and that includes psychological tests, health data and family background information. I feel that those documents must have been written by psychologists, medical people and social workers.

However, to return to the amendment in question, I would remind your Lordships that, as reported at col. 547 of the Official Report, the Minister said: We cannot legislate for … confidence but we can try to legislate for a process that will build up that confidence". I feel that the amendment will go further than the Government's amendment towards building up confidence, though not alas! as far as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, proposes. I very much hope that your Lordships will support this middle-of-the-road solution.

5.40 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, we have had a long debate on the principle of confidentiality, so I shall confine my remarks to speaking quite precisely to this amendment which has been moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth). I should like to say at the outset that I see that the proposed new clause is an attempt to recognise some but not all of the dangers which might arise in some cases if parents were given an absolute right of access to professional reports. I think it is worth asking ourselves what in practical terms would be achieved by this clause which is not achieved by the Government's own amendment to Clause 7, which we shall debate as Amendment No. 15.

In effect the parent will obtain an interview with the professional concerned in the assessment, so there is very little difference here. However, the parent will have a right to see the reports and other items of evidence providing the professional is content that disclosure will not harm the interests of the child or of the parents. However, where professionals have under these circumstances withheld reports the parents are to be told of this fact under the new clause, and I believe that the professional would be placed in a very difficult position. Can we really envisage a system where the parent is told that a doctor has said that information and evidence about the casual factors of a child's handicap should not be passed on to the parent? If anything is likely to worry the parent, I think it is a statement like that, when the presumption of the amendment is that as a rule all information should be passed on, for under those circumstances the parent will immediately want to know precisely what that evidence is.

It is at this stage that one would have to ask oneself: why would the professional choose, under these circumstances, to withhold the evidence from the parents? It could well be, for example, that the father is in fact the child's natural father, and not simply the husband of the woman who is the mother of the child. I think it requires very little imagination to see that professionals would be placed in a very difficult situation with parents also in a difficult situation after these procedures have been undertaken, except, of course, that I think they would harbour a grudge because most parents would have the information and they did not.

There is, I think, a further objection of substance to this cause. I have not argued the case at length previously, but I think it is worth restating that very many parents would not understand a professional's report even if they had access to it. I wonder how many Members of your Lordships' House would in fact understand a detailed medical report and the associated X-rays, blood tests and other diagnostic tests on which the report would be based. Some undoubtedly would; others would not.

Finally, the new clause attempts to deal with notification to the parent of each occasion when someone handles or sees a professional's report. I entirely understand the concern underlying this part of the amendment, but here again I wonder whether we are being realistic. The doctor's report will probably have to go to other professionals in the assessment team and be handled by them and their supporting staff. It is not I hope being seriously suggested that the LEA must write to the parent every time the child's folder moves offices. I think this must be a misunderstanding of what the noble Baroness has in mind, because it would add an enormous administrative burden to the whole procedures.

But what we can do and will undertake to do is to issue guidance about confidentiality, and we shall have powers under Schedule 1 in respect of statements; but I do not think that we can write this kind of proposal on to the face of the Bill. I hope very much that the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), will be prepared to withdraw this amendment, and that later on I shall have the support of your Lordships when I introduce the Government amendment to Clause 7.

Baroness David

My Lords, the Minister has I think paid more attention to subsections (3) and (5) of the amendment, and to the objections that she has to those —and I can see some grounds for her anxieties there. But I wonder whether, as to the general principle enunciated in subsections (1) and (2), and indeed (4)—because in her amendment, also, the parent can meet one of the professionals to discuss the contents of any report—she feels that her objections to the amendment that was moved in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, have been met in subsections (1) and (2), because it seems to me that we have gone a long way to meet the anxieties that were expressed about one or two possible items being kept back, and which were of course mentioned in the Warnock Report. I wonder whether the Minister could perhaps enlarge a little on that.

Baroness Young

My Lords, with the leave of the House, as I hope I indicated in my earlier remarks we have given to parents the right to discuss the statement with one of the professionals involved, so to that extent subsection (4) is met. As far as subsection (1) of this new clause is concerned, I have just moved an amendment to apply the new Government provision to Clause 5 as well as to Clause 7, in order to extend its procedures; so I think that to a certain extent subsection (1) of this new clause is met.

As far as subsection (2) is concerned, that is the one I find great difficulty with because the assumption that parents would have the right of full disclosure except where the professionals said they should not have that right seems to me to make matters worse (if I may put it in those terms) for the parents who are singled out for this particular treatment. So I would find that very difficult to accept. I must say again that because I shall be moving, in Amendment No. 15, what is the Government's response to this issue of confidentiality—which I think puts much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, wants into an amendment—I hope she will withdraw this amendment.

Lord Robbins

My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Baroness whom we are all heckling, or some of us are heckling, for returning to the main question of confidentiality. Let us suppose that one is in the position of a professional person earning a sufficient income who happens to have the misfortune of having a child who is apparently mentally handicapped and deserving in some way or other of receiving the special treatment discussed in this Bill. In such a case, if I were in this position, I should myself go to a specialist and ask him what the root of the matter was, and if he said to me, "I am not going to answer your questions on this matter", I should naturally go to someone else. It seems to me that the Government compromise admits the right of a parent to have conversations, but it does not give him the full right which, if he were in a position of sufficient income, he would certainly exercise if he were refused information of the kind that I have referred to.

5.50 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, my noble friend Baroness Darcy (de Knayth) has done a valuable service for the House in tabling this amendment and moving it. It does not go so far as the amendment which I moved earlier (which was narrowly defeated by your Lordships) and this is the kind of situation where there is so little difference between the Government and those who would like a little more written into the Bill that we could very well ask my noble friend Lady Young if she would consider this between now and the next stage. There is no party issue or Government issue in this matter. It is something we want to try to get right in the interests of the parents of all concerned. I would have hoped that my noble friend would give such an undertaking because I cannot but think that it would be helpful.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I support what my noble friend Lord Renton has said. I hope that my noble friend Lady Darcy will wait. We could have the opportunity of the long Summer Recess to do more research on this subject. It is difficult and I am very worried about Amendment No. 15 of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, where it refers to one professional involved. Handicap and disability passes many different specialities; it crosses borders. One person may be doing a great harm because he may not be able to answer all the questions which the parent wants answered. They may be medical questions which a teacher cannot answer; they may be educational questions which a medical person cannot answer. It is right across the board and, as has been said, it is multi-disciplinary. I hope that my noble friend will leave this until Third Reading.

Lord Digby

My Lords, these amendments are about confidentiality. Together with the amendment that my noble friend Lord Renton has put down to Amendment No. 15, they are trying to go part way. In fact, they are liable to make the situation worse. If you are going to show everything, then show it. We have just decided we will not do that. It is going to create grit in the wheels of the relationships of the local authority and the parents. I believe even worse are these half measures, where they have to be told that they are not seeing a report and they say, "Why have I not seen that report?" et cetera.

Lord Renton

My Lords, would my noble friend allow me to say that we decided it is relation to Clause 5 which deals with assessments? We have not decided the issue of confidentiality in relation to Clause 7 or even begun to discuss it.

Baroness Young

My Lords, by leave of the House, to answer the point which has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, I recognise that the amendment of Lady Darcy is one in which she has tried to meet some of the Government's concerns. I would be wrong not to say to the House that the Government have considered this matter and have gone through a long consultative period over this amendment, No. 15, which we have put down to meet the anxieties of the House and the other place about the issue of confidentiality. I cannot at this stage undertake to consider the amendment of the noble Baroness. If she presses it, I advise my noble friends to vote against it.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend the Minister. She said that she felt that this amendment met some but not all the objections that were raised at Committee. It overcomes nearly all of them. She says that with regard to subsection (3) the parents would know the name of the professional who refused information. But they would still be given the right to discuss this information with the professsional. If one does not reveal the name, we are not gaining anything, because they will all hide behind the cloak of anonymity and refuse to reveal information. She said that parents often would not understand the reports, anyway; but I would point out that parents do not have to see the reports. They only see them if they ask and want to see them. She also felt it was not necessary to have anything in the Bill about controlling the circulation of reports. There are genuine worries about this.

There is an interesting article by Michael Davis, who is an educational psychologist, which appears in the British Psychological Society's bulletin for March of this year. It states that it was common practice, for example, for education officers to receive copies of psychological reports especially when educational placement was being recommended although they were not competent to comment upon professional matters contained in the report. Therefore, they should be in no position to scrutinise them. Mr. Davis wrote that the basic principle should surely be that issues of concern to parents and children should be brought to the attention of only those who will be directly involved in helping them with these issues.

Therefore, it is important. I appreciate that the Government have tried very hard with their amendment to Clause 7. I do not feel that it goes far enough, and I feel that I have compromised as much as I can with this amendment. I am sorry that the noble Baroness cannot offer to meet and discuss this issue to try and come to a compromise a little farther in my direction. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that there is very little difference between the Government's amendment and this amendment. Ultimately, probably the noble Lord, Lord Digby, is right. There is no half-way satisfactory solution; we shall have to go all-out for total access. We shall have to go on trying. We have Lord Renton's amendment to come, and we still have Third Reading. Reluctantly, but with hope for the future I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Denham

My Lords, this is probably an appropriate moment to move on to the next business. I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.

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