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 Mr Jack Ashley Mr Jack Ashley , Stoke-on-Trent South 9:45 pm, 12th February 1980

I support most of what the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) said, but he is wrong in saying that the clause is drawn up with the best of intentions. The clause is based on a misunderstanding. I do not know whether the intention is good or bad, but it is a condescending and patronising clause, which some of us bitterly resent. It will deprive parents of disabled children of the rights given to the parents of non-disabled children.

I know that the Minister is sympathetic, and I am sure that the Secretary of State is, too. But somehow, they have been persuaded to put the clause in the Bill. Why should they prevent parents of handicapped children having a voice in the choice of their child's school?

I do not want to make this a party political issue. It is not. I simply remind the Secretary of State that in the previous Government the Minister with responsibilities for the disabled went out of his way to bring into Warnock a representative of the disabled—Mrs. Tumin.

10.30 pm

With this clause, the disabled are still being deprived of that voice. The parents of disabled children, who should be allowed to speak out are being gagged. There is nothing worse than parents of a disabled child seeing that child beaten in the rat race. In life's rat race, disabled children suffer. No matter how much sympathy is expressed, no matter how many warm words are uttered or bromides offered, they suffer and fall behind. Disablement is exactly what it has been called. It is a handicap.

The parents of disabled children want to speak out and help their children as much as, if not more than, other parents. This clause deprives them of that voice. I believe that the clause must be based on some misunderstanding. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that it is to be withdrawn. The question of principle is applicable to the clause. If the Minister accepts the principle adumbrated in our amendment he should withdraw the clause. There is no point in giving an assurance that it will be withdrawn at a later date.

A principle is a principle. If public expenditure were involved I would still argue as a Labour Member, but public expenditure is not involved. The Minister should be able to say that although there are difficulties and problems the Government are prepared to deal with them and give parents the vital voice that they require.

I beg the Secretary of State to think again. It is rumoured that we may have to go to a Division. I hope that the rumours are wrong. I hope that the Government will withdraw clause 9 and show that, whatever their faults, they are not prepared to gag the parents of disabled children when the education of their children is discussed.