Nursery Schools and Special Schools

Part of Orders of the Day — EDUCATION (No. 2) BILL – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 12th February 1980.

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Photo of Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh 9:45 pm, 12th February 1980

I wish to speak to amendment No. 123. If the amendment is accepted, it will remove the words special schools or children in need of special educational treatment. from the clause. The clause excludes the parents of children in special schools from the provisions of the preceding three clauses. Those clauses assist parents. They give them rights.

I had hoped that it would be unnecessary to argue the case. However, I must apparently do so. When the clause was discussed in Committee, the Minister said: This clause was drafted with the best of intentions". Of course, my hon. Friend always has the best of intentions. He continued: but if it can be shown that there would be overwhelming advantage in changing it, we shall come back to it on Report."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 18 December 1979; c. 847.] The case has been made. There is an overwhelming disadvantage in leaving the clause as it is. If our amendment is accepted it will remove the disadvantage that my hon. Friend is imposing on the parents of disabled children. That is entirely in line with Government thinking. When the present Leader of the House—that most distinguished of my many distinguished colleagues—was Shadow spokesman for education, he spoke during a debate on a previous education Bill. With his normal ability to get to the heart of the matter, he said: We also welcome that part of the new clause under which parents are brought in. Mark those words. He continued: That is in accordance with our philosophy of increasing parental influence in education and our belief that, if a child is to go to a special school, parental consent is required."—[Official Report, 1 July 1976; Vol. 914, c. 724.] That is entirely in line with the recommendations of the Warnock report on the special educational needs of handicapped children. The chapter in the Warnock report entitled "Parents as Partners"—I suggest that clause 9 denies that concept—begins: We have insisted throughout this report that the successful education of children with special educational needs is dependent upon the full involvement of their parents; indeed, unless the parents are seen as equal partners in the educational process the purpose of our report will be frustrated. Are we, so early on in the consideration of the report, to frustrate its whole purpose?

May I anticipate my hon. Friend's reply? He gave us a trailer in an earlier debate. He indicated that it was possible, come the spring and the crocuses and tulips, that some Green Paper, some White Paper, or a White Paper with green edges—a little discussion paper on Warnock—would be published. That response is not adequate, because my hon. Friend gave no indication about early legislation upon or implementation of the Warnock report. Even had he done so, we know that the best of departmental legislative intentions in February have a habit of being frustrated by other priorities of Governments come October and November and the Queen's Speech.

If my hon. Friend insists on that as his only defence, I am reminded of a young man who has been walking out for many months with a girl. He is asked "John, how are you getting on? Have you proposed yet?" He replies "Oh, yes. I popped the question." "Did she accept you or refuse you?" "No. She said 'Ask me again in a year's time.' "One knows the value of that sort of acceptance, and that is what we have so far been offered by my hon. Friend.

I suggest that the amendment has the merit that it does justice but does not cost public money. My hon. Friend will not be hauled over the coals by the Chief Secretary or any of his satellites. All members of his Department will be able to look their Treasury colleagues straight in the eye.

The clause is a grey provision, drafted by grey little lawyers, with grey little hearts. I invite my hon. Friend to reject the grey advice. He is a bigger man than that. He should allow his natural instincts for generosity to have the better of that little grey bit of paper with the black, but not the grey, words on it "Resist, resist." We all know the way that it is done. He would do better to have in front of him the words of that great American poet, Emerson, who said Let us treat men and women well; treat them as if they were real; perhaps they are. I promise my hon. Friend that if he treats the parents of handicapped children as if they were real—and I suggest that they are—he will not run into difficulty with his Treasury colleagues and he will do justice to those real people whom the whole House respects and wishes to help.