HL Deb 22 March 2001 vol 623 cc1537-9

3.24 p.m.

Lord Rix

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are the new initiatives in the White Paper Valuing People: a new strategy for learning disability for the 21st century (Cm 5086), and what extra funds are available to underpin it at local level.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department: of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath)

My Lords, the new strategy for learning disability for the 21st century sets out proposals for improving the life chances of people with learning disabilities. A new learning disability development fund of up to £50 million per year is being set up to support the proposals in the White Paper for adults. There will also be an implementation support fund of £2.3 million per year for three years from April 2001 to provide central support for key aspects of the new strategy.

Lord Rix

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. I also thank the Government for a most helpful and far-reaching White Paper. I commend it to your Lordships' House as ideal bedside reading!

Perhaps I may ask the Minister to turn to page 125 of the White Paper. Sub-objective 4.1 refers to proposed performance indicators in regard to short-term breaks. Will the Minister confirm that if the proposed performance indicator indicates a shortfall, as I am sure it will, steps will be taken to make good that particular shortfall?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, for that question. I am sure that the House would wish to acknowledge his contribution to this field over many years. In many ways, I feel that this White Paper represents the culmination of that dedication.

With regard to the question of performance indicators, if we are to make a success of the White Paper, it is very important that targets are set and that a performance management framework is in place to ensure their implementation. We shall ensure that that happens.

As far as concerns resources, it is worth bearing in mind that, between health and local government, approximately £3 billion is spent on the provision of services for people with learning disabilities. Part of the answer to the problem is to ensure that those resources are used effectively. In addition, I believe that the development fund that we have announced will greatly help in encouraging local statutory agencies to develop the kind of services that the noble Lord has in mind.

Lord Renton

My Lords, in accepting what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has said, I ask the Government to bear in mind that many children with learning difficulties who go to mainstream schools are unhappy, some are bullied, and their presence sometimes interferes with the education of normal children. Will the Government therefore ensure that the needs of those who require special education are met, whenever possible, by their attendance at schools with special educational needs facilities?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, that is a little outside my area. However, I certainly agree that paramount to any decision about education are the needs of individual children and the wishes of their parents. The Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill makes changes to the existing law to strengthen the right of children with special educational needs to be educated in mainstream schools. But I can tell the noble Lord that, although the proportion of pupils in special schools fell from 1.3 per cent in 1991 to 1.2 per cent in 1995, it has remained constant in each of the past six years. I can assure the noble Lord that the Bill does not make it more difficult for parents whose children have statements of SEN to gain a special school place.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I am very impressed by this thoughtful, sensitive and wide-ranging White Paper. It reflects great credit on the Government. I should like to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Rix and to Mencap for the work that they have done over the years. But would my noble friend agree that special educational needs services are ultimately delivered by local authorities, some of which are good, some of which are appalling? Although the White Paper states that an inspection will take place in 2001–02, will my noble friend assure the House that regular monitoring will take place to ensure that those services are delivered to the people who need them?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the record of statutory agencies is at the moment patchy. There are some very good services, some excellent committee people, and some services that are not so good.

I believe that the most important building block in the development of this policy is the proposal to develop what are called learning disability partnership boards at local level. The aim is to bring together statutory and voluntary organisations to give the necessary impetus to implement the effective provision of services. That will be backed up by our performance management arrangements in the health service and the performance assessment arrangements in social services to ensure that it happens properly.

Lord Clement-Jones

My Lords, does the Minister recognise some of the concern that has been caused to people with Asberger's and their carers by the way in which learning disability is defined in the White Paper? Many people with Asberger's get their support from learning disability services. Can he guarantee that they will continue to be able to get their support from learning disability services until there are specialist support services for them?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, it is important that people with Asberger's get the right help and support. The noble Lord is right that they are not covered by the definition used in the White Paper. It covers those with autism who also have a learning disability, but not those with a higher level autistic spectrum disorder. The noble Lord will be glad to know that we have commissioned a report from Cambridge University on the issues surrounding Asberger's syndrome. We shall consider its recommendations and I shall write to the noble Lord when the outcome is known.