I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have never met anyone yet who has not paid lip service to the need for improvements in special educational needs or disability rights. However, sympathy is of little comfort to parents and children, or to adult men and women who have a disability, when discrimination and lack of rights undermine their efforts to achieve equality of opportunity.
I had hoped, therefore, that we might have been able to build on the consensus that was developing in the House of Lords. Regrettably, the Opposition have decided to table an amendment, which means that I shall have to go into greater detail on the issues on which the amendment touches that could undermine that consensus.
It is not that there are no differences of opinion when it comes to achieving disability rights or bringing about equality of opportunity for people with special educational needs. Those differences exist, but debates can be conducted in a way that ensures that we secure the improvement—the step change—that the Bill promises. We can ensure that anomalies are ironed out, that obstacles are removed and that interests that can be promoted without undermining others' well-being are so promoted. [Interruption.] I am being heckled already, even though I plead guilty to saying nothing offensive or controversial—
I want to pay tribute to my noble Friend Baroness Blackstone for the way in which she conducted the Bill's proceedings in the Lords and for being prepared to listen and respond to requests for amendments and alterations in the code and the guidance. It is on that basis that we shall proceed. There were 92 amendments in the House of Lords. Although two thirds of them were technical, 27 were in response to concerns. I intend to continue conducting the Bill and the debate on the code and regulations in the same spirit.
I am grateful to the Under Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), who has been conducting discussions with the various groups, including the consortiums, to get this right. The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), led the disability rights taskforce towards finding a way forward through difficult areas in relation to further disability rights. We have been able to accept the taskforce's recommendations and can move forward on them.
The Bill builds on the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. It enhances disability rights and extends the role of the Disability Rights Commission and the rights established under the Learning and Skills Act 2000. However, there is still a long way to go. Securing rights, not simply through writing them into legislation, but through the changing of attitudes, will take time.
The Bill is about having an education service that is tailored to the needs of children and the wishes of parents. It squares the circle when one claim sometimes leads to accusations that another set of rights has been infringed. It will overcome the contradictions when words appear to mean one thing but actually mean something else entirely. It was Humpty Dumpty in "Alice Through the Looking-Glass" who said:
When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.
It was not. I am all in favour of promoting English literature at its best. The reason I used the quote was very simple: today's reasoned amendment and the interventions of Baroness Blatch in the other place were predicated on a misunderstanding of terminology relating to the needs of the child. If the needs of the child, as put together in a statement, are used by schools to prevent that child from having access to the parents school of choice, words art turned on their head and have the very opposite effect on that child's needs. That is why the debate in the other place, and presumably this debate, need to be predicated on getting right the balance between parental wishes and the avoidance of damage to other children's education.
We must ensure that we protect others and that, if a school's ability to deliver education adequately is undermined, other facilities are found for youngsters with special educational needs. We must try our utmost to ensure that we have an integrated education service—not necessarily in terms of an individual being placed in a particular school or setting, but we must always try to integrate the opportunity of the child.
It is always difficult to match parents' needs and requirements to what is available, and it always will be because supply and demand are not perfect. However, all of us want to ensure that, through the maintenance of adequate special school facilities and through meeting specific—sometimes profound—needs, we get that balance right.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the award of more than £16 million that has just been made to Kirklees for special educational needs. When considering how to use that money to enhance education for children with special needs, would it not be right for the local education authority to reflect carefully on the words that my right hon. Friend has just spoken and to ensure that the child is at the centre of policy? A range of provisions should be available in the area so that children with both mild and severe learning difficulties can be accommodated in the education system.
I agree with that. I am pleased that my hon. Friend's campaign to retain Lydgate school has, apparently, been so successful. I understand that the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) visited the school, in a truly non-partisan fashion, to try to secure its future. We were all grateful for her intervention—as was the local council—[Interruption.] That caused a little kerfuffle and stir.
I am getting on with it. The hon. Gentleman should not be so irritable—[Interruption.]— and irritating. I was about to say something that he would be interested to hear.
Some right-wing thinkers and commentators on special needs education have something sensible to say. There is a tendency to label youngsters as having special educational needs when all that has happened is that they were poorly assessed as youngsters and poorly taught in school. If we can put that right, neither individuals nor schools will feel that the special educational needs label is required.
Furthermore, through baseline assessment and the development of the literacy strategy, we can tackle specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, with which I have some familiarity. It is important to be able to identify and thus to address conditions such as dyspraxia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and, indeed, autism in ways that we have not done previously, to try to meet the needs of the child in both mainstream and special schools.
I hope that my right hon. Friend does not mind being squeezed by both sides of Huddersfield in such quick succession. Although some Labour Members disagree with some of Baroness Blatch's comments in another place. some parts of her speeches were good. She put her finger on the fact that there is a lack of consistent research into assessment and long-term outcomes—to consider what we actually do for those children over time. We need such research to check that evaluation is right, that what we are doing is right and that it leads to a successful outcome.
I have not spoken to my hon. Friend on this matter, but he inadvertently throws me up an easy ball. I agree with that point. That is why we are putting another £100,000 into research into dyslexia—as I can announce today. That will help us investigate causes and apply best practice. We need to do much more than we did in the past to get that right.
Initial and in-service training programmes are crucial. I pay tribute to the work of special educational needs co-ordinators—I shall refer to them henceforth as SENCOs—in learning about, spreading and reinforcing best practice in schools. A great deal of good work on that is taking place. A few years ago, that work would not have been done—that is a non-partisan approach to the situation.
Some parents are clearly worried whether, even with the best will in the world and the best training, their children will receive the help, support and resources that they need if there is a clearly identified, on-going problem. It is therefore not surprising that parents seek a statement when their children have severe special educational needs.
I want to make it absolutely clear that the controversy that arose last year about the consultation on the code of practice needs to be put to rest. We were seeking to ensure that a flexible and responsive way forward existed. Clear views were expressed across the range of opinions, suggesting that it would be better if we could secure specificity and clarity through the code of practice. I intend to read into the record our proposals on the code of practice
We shall make it clear that education authorities are required to specify provision in statements, as they always have been. We shall retain the requirement in the regulations for provision to be specified, matching the terms of the duty on education authorities set out in the Education Act 1996. The code will state clearly that statements should
describe clearly all of the child's special educational needs in full; set out the main objectives that the special educational provision aims to meet; specify clearly and in detail the provision required to meet each of the child's needs; describe the arrangements for setting shorter term objectives for the child; describe any special arrangements for the annual review of the statement; stress the importance of the school monitoring and evaluating the child's progress during the year; emphasise the importance of the local education authority monitoring the child's progress toward identified outcomes—with the school".
The guidance will make it clear that provision may often need to be expressed in terms of hours, equipment or personnel. It will make it absolutely clear that education authorities must not, in any circumstance, have a blanket policy not to quantify the provision in statements. We made a commitment on Report in the House of Lords that we would also enhance the guidance on assessments to make it clear that education authorities should not have blanket policies that prevent those from whom they seek advice from commenting on the amount of provision that they consider appropriate for a child.
May I tell the Secretary of State how much that statement will be welcomed in the special needs world? Will the cash resources that must be made available to meet the provisions that he describes specifically come from the school's budget, or will they come from the local education authority? In either case, where will those resources emanate from?
Of course part of the required resources will travel with the statement in terms of the amount allocated. I am intent on not making this a party political matter, which is why it is important that we do not simply delegate resources to schools on a blanket basis, and it is why we must be sensitive to those needs and to retaining authorities that can co-ordinate and deliver the necessary provision. Sufficient access funds must be allocated to education authorities, again, to be able to pick out where that investment is required. Those are fairly basic precepts of a system that, in the words of a former Conservative Select Committee Chairman, cannot have 24,000 bobbing corks on a murky sea.
On that point, I am happy to reassure the Secretary of State that our proposals for free schools—although he did not utter that term, I assume that he was alluding to them—make it absolutely clear that the statementing function will remain with the local authority and that the local authority will be funded accordingly.
I am deeply grateful for that clarification. On 12 March—only eight days ago—we challenged the hon. Lady about that policy, and she put on record that all the funds would be delegated to schools. That is what she said. Now, at least some of the funds that the education authority—I am sorry, I meant local authority; as Humpty Dumpty rightly said, "Choose words carefully." Local authorities, as opposed to education authorities, which would be abolished, would presumably have the money that the hon. Lady mentioned to allocate according to need.
I wonder whether the authorities will have the access funds that are being provided. After all, this year alone, we are providing five times more money in access funds than we inherited. By 2003–04, we will provide 10 times more than we inherited, and that money will be applied to meet the needs of the individual child.
I very much welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about the code of practice, but may I raise the specific issue of children suffering from autistic spectrum disorders? I know that he will agree that provision for those children is not what it should be and that the problem goes back many years. In particular, does he agree that there is a problem in pre-school and nursery years when provision for those children often falls between the two stools of the health authority and the local education authority? That is highly unsatisfactory, so will he take this opportunity to spell out how the Bill will address those children's problems?
There has been a specific problem in that much of the good work that began—dare I say it—in the early 1970s when Baroness Thatcher held this portfolio has not been taken forward. Real moves were made by local government, central Government and the health service to develop good assessment programmes. Some of them remain, but they have not been accelerated or developed for many years. Therefore, we propose to allocate £25 million over the next three years to develop services in the early years. We shall train staff to ensure that a co-ordinator is linked to every facility for early-years provision. Sub-regional and regional provision will ensure that there can be monitoring, support work and the spreading of best practice. Some £11 million of that sum will go to the specific improvement of services, including joint multi-disciplinary assessment, so that we link the health, social services and education services in a positive regard.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is today publishing a White Paper on the needs of the young and old alike who have learning disabilities—or mental handicaps as we used to call them. I hope to be able to integrate the policies that we are developing with the proposals in the White Paper to give tens of thousands of those with learning difficulties a much better deal and their families much greater security as they grow older. We shall address both the educational and personal needs of those people.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. In response to the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), he described the route by which the money will reach the pupil, through both the local authority and the school. However, although he mentioned additional sources, he did not address the central issue of the amount. Is he saying that resources will not be a problem, whatever the terms of the statement?
Of course I am not. Were the resources always available to match supply and demand, we would be living in a happy third-term Labour Government. We are intent on winning the second term first. I can promise that the £3 billion for special needs, which is either devolved or provided through local education authorities, will be used effectively and wisely. Additional resources, both devolved and delegated to schools and enhanced by education authority resources, will be available. Specific funding, such as access funds, will also be provided. That is in addition to the quadrupling of capital spending, which, by allowing us to improve, remodel and rebuild schools, enables us do the job more effectively.
We want to promote centres of excellence in the special school system and to protect schools that offer an expertise. They should act as a resource that provides peripatetic support to pupils in other schools. We want to ensure that they offer high quality and excellence regionally and nationally. Progress has been made in the regional planning experiments. There cannot be a market in the provision of residential facilities for special needs purposes. There is no guaranteed supportive stream of funding for such facilities, and that knocks schools out. We need to use the co-ordinating structure at a regional level to secure a basic minimum provision that gives parents a choice when they consider their children's requirements and gives us the ability to retain that key expertise for the development of research and for delivery in the future.
In case people think that there has been a massive acceleration of the closure of residential facilities, let me state the facts. The proportion of children in special residential and day provision has remained almost the same in the past decade, at 1.2 per cent. Some 317 special schools closed in the 10 years between 1987 and 1997; 129 closed between 1997 and today, and 17 will close in the next year—a total of 146 closures within a five-year period. Seven schools are to open this year, which means that 38 new special schools will have opened in the same five-year period. I make no party political point, but 317 schools closed in the 10 years from 1987 to 1997, and 146 will close in the past five years, with some new schools opening.
Given what the Secretary of State says about the importance of special provision and the need to harness the undoubted expertise that is available, why does the Bill discriminate against non-maintained special schools such as the royal school for deaf children in my constituency? Why does he not want to harness that special expertise?
Not only are we not discriminating against non-maintained schools, but we have started to provide them with the devolved revenue and capital that we announced in the last two Budgets. That has not been a feature of any other Government, Labour or Conservative. We have reached out to the non-maintained sector and want to draw it into the regional planning process. If the hon. Gentleman feels that there is a specific problem concerning that school, I shall be happy to address it if he writes to me. We need to retain expertise in a range of provision that would otherwise not be available.
The Bill is designed to take us one step further on the road to getting this right; it is not the end of the story. I appeal to all hon. Members to ensure that it has a clear passage. I hope that, in the end, no one will be able to suggest that the Government or that Opposition sought party political gain. I certainly do not seek such gain, and I did not do so in the previous Session when mechanisms were used to delay the introduction of the measures under specific regulations.
The first 10 clauses apply only to England and Wales and cover special educational needs elements. Part II has 30 clauses and covers disability issues in education, with the exception of strategic planning and access functions in Scotland, which are dealt with by the Scottish Parliament. Otherwise, the measures in part II apply throughout Britain; they do not include Northern Ireland, because equality is a devolved function.
Clause 1 contains a commitment to strengthen the right to a mainstream place for children with special educational needs where parents wish it and where it is not incompatible with the education of other children.
If there is one part of the Bill about which I have a slight concern, it is that second caveat about the impact on other children. I am concerned that it might be used to justify not placing the emphasis on parental choice which my right hon. Friend and I would like to see.
That is one reason for our rejection of the reasoned amendment. A school needs to be able to show that it has made an effort to provide access and to accommodate a youngster. By being inclusive and gaining a reputation for supporting particular needs, some schools have found themselves swamped, and admissions have resulted in them being unable to fulfil the second condition in clause 1. Getting that right is a matter not simply of common sense but of reasonableness on the part of all those who take part in delivering an inclusive service. I have faith that people will get it right, but we need to provide protection to ensure that it happens in practice.
Clauses 2 and 3 place a duty on the education authority to provide parent partnership services and arrangements for resolving and preventing disputes, which are another important part of getting it right. Clauses 4 to 10 amend existing special educational needs frameworks to streamline the process for parents and to maximise the benefits for children. That means slimming down bureaucracy and administration and making access to rights easier.
Part II deals with disability discrimination in education. It covers discrimination in schools and in post-16 institutions—that aspect that was not dealt with in the Learning and Skills Act 2000—and contains miscellaneous supporting provisions. Clauses 11 to 16 place new duties on education authorities and schools, including independent and non-maintained special schools in England and Wales, and on local authorities, independent, self-governing and grant-aided schools in Scotland.
In England, as well as in Wales and Scotland, the new duties include not treating disabled pupils less favourably than pupils who are not disabled, unless there is justification. There is also a duty to make reasonable adjustments so that disabled pupils are not put at a substantial disadvantage.
Additionally, in England and Wales there is a new duty to plan strategically and to make progress in improving accessibility to premises and to the curriculum. I mentioned premises earlier, but access to the curriculum is also important. The development of information technology is making that possible in circumstances that did not exist a few years ago, and we should take full advantage of it.
Clauses 17 to 25 provide enforcement through the special educational needs and disability tribunal in England and Wales and through the sheriff court in Scotland. Clauses 26 to 29 place new duties on colleges, universities and local education authorities in relation to adult education, community education and youth services. Those duties did not exist before, and will be enforceable through the tribunal in England and Wales, and through the sheriff court in Scotland. For adults, enforcement will be through the county court, or its equivalent in Scotland.
It is important to change attitudes. We cannot bring about a step change in equality simply through legislation. We can set the framework, begin to change the way in which people see problems, and consider ways of overcoming them. We have sought to do so by extending part III of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, by developing the new deal for disabled people, and by creating greater inclusion through the changes in the work of Remploy introduced by the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking.
We have provided much better non-repayable grants and support for students with disabilities in post-16 and higher education, including part-time and postgraduate students. That provision did not exist before. We can ensure that we apply extra resources to make that happen, as we committed ourselves to do in the Green Paper. However, in the end, there must be a change in attitude and outlook. This will be about seeing ways round problems rather than seeing the problem, and about ensuring that when we talk about an inclusive society, we mean it for everyone. Let us all join together in taking yet one more step on the road to equality of opportunity, to inclusion and to social justice.
I beg to move,
That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords] because it does not explicitly give priority to the special educational needs of the child and contains no mechanism for safeguarding a viable choice for parents between types of school.
This is an important debate because the measures in the Bill will have a significant impact on the educational opportunities and development of children with special educational needs, and particularly those with disabilities. Because this issue is so important, we need to ensure that we get the Bill right, that we discuss it properly and fully, and that we consider its implications. In that connection, I am sorry about the tone that the Secretary of State took in some of his comments on the Bill.
I am happy to tell the Secretary of State that we support the principle of the Bill—that is, its desire to widen access to mainstream education and to ensure that no artificial barriers are put in the way of providing all children with the education that meets their needs. Much of the Bill builds on work done by the previous Government in the Education Acts of 1981, 1993 and 1996, all of which dealt with special educational needs.
When considering any legislation of this kind, it is essential to ensure that the needs of the child are paramount, and that the education provided genuinely meets the child's needs and is in their best interests. That focus on the child has driven the work of my colleagues in another place when scrutinising, and tabling amendments to, the Bill. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and, in particular, to pay tribute to the work of Baroness Blatch, who has done sterling work in examining the detail of the Bill and suggesting improvements to it. In doing so, she has reflected the concerns and interests of parents of children with special educational needs, and the concerns and interests of disability organisations.
The Bill was initially promised in the Queen's Speech in 1999. We were then promised that the Government would publish a draft Bill, which did not materialise. That is a pity because a Bill such as this, which has a broad sweep of support in principle, is one where an early opportunity to consider a draft Bill would have been welcomed by many, including interest groups which, I know, regretted that they did not have that opportunity.
Now, however, we have a Bill to consider. As I have said, our approach is driven by the needs and interests of the child. Any approach to the issue must be characterised by a belief that the educational needs of all children must be accommodated; whatever the background, whatever the mental and physical needs or abilities of a child, our education system must be able to meet those needs and interests. It is important that the Bill ensures that schools, local education authorities and others act at all times in the best interests of the child.
At the moment, the Bill includes important provisions that ensure that the wishes of parents and the interests of other pupils in schools are heard. Indeed, it is necessary to consider other pupils in a school and the impact that the inclusion of a child with special educational needs will have on them. There are many examples showing that the inclusion of a disabled child in a mainstream school has enormous benefits for the child and his or her peers. I visit many schools that are already doing good work to include disabled children. Wessex infants school in my constituency has a unit for hearing-impaired children. On Monday, I was in Piggott secondary school in my constituency, which has a number of pupils who are wheelchair users.
When I visit such schools, I am struck above all by other pupils' attitude—or perhaps I should say their lack of attitude, as they treat disabled children as they do any other member of the class, which is as it should it be. The inclusion of those pupils therefore has a very positive benefit. However, situations will arise in which the inclusion of a child with special educational needs can have a deleterious impact on the education of others. That is most likely to occur when a child has behavioural problems. The inclusion of a particularly disruptive child in a mainstream class can damage the education of others.
It is therefore right that the Bill includes consideration of the provision of efficient education for other children as well as parents' wishes. However, it does not include a provision which would require action to be taken specifically either in accordance with the special educational needs of the child or in his or her best interests. In his opening remarks, the Secretary of State talked about having to balance competing needs and provide an education service tailored to the needs of children. I agree that we need a service tailored to children's needs and that we must balance competing needs. The Bill is flawed because it does not set out and balance those competing needs.
My colleagues in another place tried without success to insert the phrase
the best interests of the child
in the Bill. Indeed, on Third Reading in another place, my noble Friend Baroness Blatch said:
The primary aim of the Bill is to serve the best interests of the child with special educational needs. I have yet to hear a coherent argument against that from the Government. We have had this debate at each stage of the Bill and Members of all parties have argued in favour of serving the best interests of the child."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 March 2001; Vol. 622, c. 1285.]
To most people, it is common sense that that should be the Bill's aim. So far, however, the Government have resisted pressure to include such a statement in the Bill, which is one reason why we tabled our amendment.
The importance of our approach is that it ensures that children with special educational needs are not compelled to attend a maintained school simply as part of some dogmatic drive that sets a target for inclusion above the needs of individual children. The needs of children must be assessed thoroughly, and then those children should be provided with the education that they need.
My hon. Friend is right to emphasise that the system should be structured to meet the needs of the individual child, rater than expecting the child to be structured to meet the needs of the system. In that context, would my hon. Friend consider visiting the admirable Maclntyre school in my constituency, headed by Helen Willdridge, which caters magnificently for the interests of children with severe disabilities? It does a wonderful job, but it gets very little praise; it could do with some support.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, and for rightly pointing out the excellent work done by the school in his constituency. I am happy to visit the school and see the work of the teachers there, and look forward to his further invitation to do so. I am happy to visit schools across the country to see the excellent work carried out in both mainstream and special schools. I make no apology to the secretary of State—who made one or two comments about the fact that I had visited a school in the constituency of his hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford)—for going into schools and listening to parents and teachers about what they consider to be the issues that we politicians should address.
I thank my hon. Friend for coming to the Jubilee Room just before the debate started, to listen to the concerns of pupils, teachers and parents from Alderman Knight school in Gloucestershire, who feel that their school is under threat because of the Government's actions. Does she regret, as I do, that not a single Labour Front Bencher was able to call in, even for five minutes?
Indeed. Those parents, teachers and children were speaking from their hearts and expressing their feelings about the proposed closure of the Alderman Knight school and other special schools in Gloucestershire. Later in my remarks I shall deal with the threat that hangs over so many special schools.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Among all the party political point scoring, is she concerned that as a result of the actions of the Conservative party we could end up losing the entire Bill? Is she concerned that the "needs of the child" condition has been used to deny children places in mainstream schools? That condition is already covered by protections in the Education Act 1996 and overarching legislation in the Children Act 1989. Disabilities charities are satisfied with the conditions set out in clause 1.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that non-party political intervention. I fully accept that the needs of the various parties in the equation must be balanced. That is why it is important that we do not ignore the best interests of the child by wiping out that condition. Our amendment seeks what Ministers in another place have accepted and what the Secretary of State has accepted in some of his comments. At the heart of the Bill should be the best interests of the child. It is sad that the Government will not write that into the Bill, as that would allow us to balance the competing needs.
I accept that achieving those best interests and balancing those needs is not always easy. There are occasions when parents are naturally protective of their children and fearful of their inclusion in mainstream schools, when that might be the right solution for a particular child.
There are also parents such as those whom I met at Thurlow Park school in Lambeth and the Lydgate special school in Colne Valley, and those whom I heard this afternoon from Alderman Knight school in Gloucestershire, whose children have tried mainstream schools and have found that while they might be physically included in the mainstream school, they have often been excluded from full participation in the school and from realising their full potential. The same children have blossomed in the special school environment.
It is only common sense, and fair and just, to include the best interests of the child, alongside those of other children in the school and of parents. The latter two groups are already identified in the Bill.
Does not the hon. Lady fear that adding a further caveat to the Bill will be used by some local authorities as an opportunity to override the primacy of the wishes of parents, by saying that they know better what should happen to a child?
No. The three parties would be identified, and the need to balance their interests would be written into the Bill. The alternative is the circumstances currently facing parents such as those whom I have mentioned, who want their children to be in special schools and believe that their decision is in their children's best interests, but are forced by a local authority that has an inclusion agenda to opt for a mainstream school.
As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), I intend to speak in more detail about special schools. Sadly, the primacy of the interests of special schools is not being maintained. The Bill does not allow it to continue or to be enhanced. We must ensure that children's best interests can be taken into consideration and that their needs are balanced. I accept that that balance can often be difficult to achieve, but if it is not clearly stated that the best interests of the child lie at the heart of the Bill, many children will be unable to develop their full potential. Children will be placed in mainstream education against their interests and their parents' wishes.
Some of my further points on the specifics of the Bill have also been made by colleagues in another place. My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) spoke about the Bill's implications for education in independent special schools. Clause 1 expressly excludes local authorities from paying for places in independent special schools. We have expressed concerns in another place about preventing local authorities from funding such places and from taking into consideration the correct provision for a child and his or her best interests. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says that he does not believe that that is the case, but clause 1 states that the cost of a place at an independent special school cannot be met by local education authorities.
I understand that Ministers gave assurances in another place that the ability to fund places in independent special schools is protected in legislation. The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 contains provision enabling local authorities to buy places in independent schools, but that required regulations that the Government have been singularly slow to introduce. I assume that the Bill
revokes that provision anyway. The ability to pay for places in the independent sector is especially important in respect of children who require 24-hour residential places, which are often purchased from the independent sector. It is also important, however, with regard to specialist schools run by disabilities organisations, such as the royal school for deaf children in Margate, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet. If the Opposition are not convinced by the Government's reassurances that local authorities' ability to fund such places remains in place, we will seek to remove the relevant provision in clause 1, which states that proposed new section 316 in the Education Act 1996
does not prevent a child from being educated in … an independent school that is not a mainstream school … if the cost is met otherwise than by a local education authority.
There is, however, a wider threat to independent special schools. Constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) have drawn to my attention the problems that parents face in relation to the code of practice, which obliges local authorities to comply with the preference that is expressed by parents for a particular maintained special school. However, the code contains no duty to comply with parents' representations—there can be only representations, and not preferences—regarding independent special schools.
A further problem exists in relation to the information that local authorities provide to parents. Authorities are required to provide information on maintained special schools so that parents can express a preference, but they are not required to provide information on schools that are in the independent sector or that are provided by voluntary, charity or disabilities organisations. Many such excellent schools currently exist, including the royal school for deaf children in Margate, and we do not want the Bill to remove the ability to give children places in them.
We do not want to set any hares running and mislead people outside the House into believing that a measure is being withdrawn when that is explicitly not the case. That is especially important as it relates to what is currently available to parents. The implications of the hon. Lady's comments—the provisions to which she referred do not give necessarily give the same impression—are completely incorrect. We are not withdrawing any current right for a parent to have a place paid for in an appropriate school, whether it is independent or not. That right will apply if such a place is appropriate and the matter is discussed and agreed as part of the process that has been set out this afternoon.
I am sure that the matter will be the subject of an interesting debate in Committee. I look forward to considering a Government amendment that clarifies the words in the Bill, which currently state that independent special school places cannot be paid for by a local education authority. If the Secretary of State is saying that that is not his intention—[Interruption.] He remarks that he said what he said, and I accept that, but I suggest that he asks his officials to consider the wording of clause 1. I do not believe that his intention, which I welcome, is reflected by that wording as it currently stands. I look forward to debating the matter further and to considering an appropriate amendment.
As I said, I welcome the Secretary of State's statement about the intention to keep independent special school places available to parents. I trust that he will consider the code of practice with regard to parents' ability to express a preference for an independent special school, as well as to the information that local authorities must make available to parents in respect of the special schools that are suitable for their children, whether they are in the independent or state sectors. I also welcome his comments about the terms of the code of practice in relation to the nature of the statement. Despite the letter that he circulated before Christmas, the issue has continued to cause anxiety among parents. We were previously placed in the difficult position of having to consider the Bill without knowing the content of the code. I am grateful to him for setting out what the Government intend to include in the code to ensure that the ability to specify provision in the statement remains.
Another continuing concern to which hon. Members have referred is the future of special schools. During the debate on the Queen's Speech, the Secretary of State said:
I want to make it absolutely clear that the inclusion agenda is not a wholesale closure if specialist facilities and schools that meet particular needs of youngsters and their families."—[Official Report, 8 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 259.]
I welcome that statement, but many Opposition Members, parents, teachers and governors are worried by the fact that a number of local education authorities have decided—some claim to be under behind-the-scenes pressure from the Department—to pursue an inclusion agenda that leads inexorably to the closure of special schools. I have visited a number of special schools, some of which were concerned about that issue and about the possibility of closure. Government figures show that there are now 1,000 fewer special schools places than there were in 1997. If parents are to have the real choice that the Government want to establish through the Bill by saying that parents' wishes should be met, there must be diversity of provision for children and it is vital that special schools can be maintained.
As more children are integrated into mainstream education where that is right for them, the number requiring special schools is falling. However, a more worrying process is at work. Local education authorities simply stop statementing children or so drag their feet over statementing that children do not enter special schools. Those schools then close, not because parents have chosen another school but through a process of stealth. That point was specifically made to me by the parents and governors I saw from Alderman Knight special school in Gloucestershire, who said that that was happening in the county.
Parents of children at Kingswode Hoe school in Colchester, whom I met recently with my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), are also concerned about that. In a letter to the Secretary of State, a member of the Kingswode Hoe action group said:
To apply the limited success stories and suggest Inclusion works for all children with special needs is a gross misinterpretation of the truth. One cannot apply a blanket rule for all children.
Parents of children Who attend special needs schools recognise the difference in education that they have to offer. Many parents may have experienced a failed Mainstream education for their special needs children who then subsequently flourish in a Special needs school setting. There is no need for radical change. Surely the task in hand would be to improve even more on what we already have rather than set a policy in motion which may adversely affect these young more vulnerable members of our society.
The same concern has also been raised by parents from Alderman Knight and other special schools—those who are members of the Gloucestershire special schools protection league—who clearly make their point:
Inclusion has never been the issue!
Our dispute with the LEA concerns:
The right of parents to choose the most appropriate type of provision for their child.
The right of each child to be educated in an environment in which they feel secure and can realise their potential.
We also do not expect miracles. We do, however, expect that after several years of little progress and often misery for the child, it should be recognised that this provision"—
that is, mainstream provision—
is not appropriate and that transfer to a special school should be routine. We do not expect to encounter obstruction and even downright lies in support of a dubious political objective.
Surely it can be of little surprise to anyone that parents are united in support of these excellent schools in which we have seen our children flourish, when so many of us have direct experience of the failure of the alternative on offer.
That is where the balanced approach is important.
I fully accept that, over the years, some children with special educational needs and some disabled children who would have flourished in the mainstream have not had the opportunity to go into mainstream education and develop their potential in the way that was right for them. However, in remedying that wrong, we must make sure that we do not create another wrong for those children for whom special schools are the appropriate provision. Ensuring that that choice is available is extremely important.
We must also ensure that the needs and best interests of the child are at the heart of our actions. The wishes of the parents must be accommodated in the best interests of the child when it is right for that child to attend a special school.
I want briefly to touch on two issues. The first is the cost implications of the Bill, which have been referred to in a number of interventions. The Government have given the impression that putting the Bill into practice will have few cost implications, but if its consequence is a significant shift towards more children with special educational needs being educated in the mainstream, there certainly will be a cost implication, and inclusion without the necessary resources is less likely to work. That is not in the interests of the child and it will also put enormous strain on teachers.
As a result, a child with special educational needs or other children in the class may not receive the quality of education that they deserve. I do not want the Bill to raise parents' expectations only for them to be dashed because the resourcing and funding needed to make it work properly are not available and because the Government have not made a proper assessment of the implications of the cost of that legislation.
Secondly, we must also ensure that teachers are involved in decisions on whether educating a particular child in the mainstream will affect the education of other children. It is important that teachers' professional judgment is involved in that decision and in making such assessments.
The official Opposition support the Bill's intention to ensure that children with special educational needs whose interest will best be met by a place in a mainstream school are able to access such a place, but we must not be driven by some dogmatic inclusion agenda that pursues inclusion for its own sake rather than for the benefit of children. We shall give the Bill the fair and detailed consideration that it deserves and I hope that the Secretary of State will respond, as he said this afternoon he would, to the concerns that we have raised. Above all, our comments and any amendments that we might table will be driven simply by the best interests of the child.
I welcome the Bill with great enthusiasm for two simple reasons—it will strengthen the right to mainstream education for disabled children and children with special educational needs, where their parents wish it, and, under part II, it will outlaw discrimination in education on the ground of disability. Thus, it will put right a major flaw in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995—namely, the exclusion of education from part III
The objective for us all is to create a society in which everyone can participate fully as equal citizens, but we have a long way to go in respect of disabled people, who are twice as likely to be out of work and to have no formal qualifications. Education provision for disabled children and disabled adults is central, and appropriate education in an environment free of discrimination is essential, as it is the foundation on which so much else rests.
Therefore, I welcome the great changes being introduced by this radical and progressive measure. I congratulate the Government wholeheartedly on the Bill, the high priority they have given it and on the extensive consultation. It has given rise to much debate and my files, like those of every other hon. Member, are full of comments from the detailed consultation exercises.
The Government have done the most thorough job imaginable and the consultation has secured overwhelming support for the Bill. Therefore, I was genuinely saddened and not a little angry to read the amendment tabled by the Leader of the Opposition, which asks hon. Members to decline to give the Bill a Second Reading. I know of no organisation in the country, apart from the Conservative party, that wants the measure to be blocked tonight.
The special education consortium, which represents 247 bodies including the major disability organisations, parents' groups, children's groups and local authorities, says, "We want this Bill and we want it now." I have the privilege to be secretary of the all-party disablement group. I therefore checked our minutes carefully and the SEC told us that this is the Bill that
the sector had wanted since 1995"—
the year of the much-flawed Disability Discrimination Act.
The SEC wants the Bill on the statute book
at the earliest possible opportunity".
The organisation, which speaks for virtually every disability group and for parents, local authorities and children, is not the only one that wants the Bill. The Disability Rights Commission has said:
Disabled children and adults, and their families, would find it hard to understand if such an excellent piece of legislation did not reach the statute book.
The Royal National Institute for the Blind strongly welcomes the Bill and has said:
It is vital that the Bill becomes law as soon as possible.
The Royal National Institute for Deaf People very much welcomes the Bill and has also said:
It is vital that the Bill becomes law as soon as possible.
Scope has said that the Bill
is a huge step forward
and wants it to have a "swift passage". The Local Government Association has welcomed the Bill, and the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation has called for no delay in its implementation. Skill, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities,
welcomes the legislation warmly
and wants to see it become law as soon as possible. I will happily give way if the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) can name one organisation of disabled people or one parents' organisation that does not want the Bill to get a Second Reading.
Surely it is clear that the Conservative party welcomes the Bill in general terms, because it builds on our own success with the three Bills that we introduced in our time in government that dealt with special educational needs. However, we question certain aspects of the Bill, and the purpose of any amendment on Second Reading is to make those concerns concrete, which is exactly what we are doing.
I think that I am right in saying that every organisation that the hon. Gentleman has prayed in aid, while welcoming the Bill, has also sought amendments to it. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made a point relating to a school in my constituency. Conservative Members have learned the hard way that the Government do not listen and will not accept amendments, even intelligent amendments, to Bills, which is why we must go down a road that none of us would choose to go down. If the Government would listen, things would be different.
Forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I had thought that this was a Second Reading debate. I shall show that in the other place the Government have listened on a number of matters, and I am pleased about that. I may even, if tempted, list areas where I think there is scope for modest refinement. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah".] My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said at the outset of the debate that these are extremely important matters, so presumably intelligent adults, let alone Members of the House, may offer a few views. I am simply saying that the Opposition have tabled an amendment to decline a Second Reading to the Bill when every disability organisation supports it.
The purpose of a Second Reading debate is to consider the principle behind a Bill. One of the key principles of the Bill that concerns us is that it does not put the best interests of the child at the heart of the legislation. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the best interests of the child should be the aim of the Bill?
Education legislation should be clear on what education authorities are supposed to do, and of course the interests of the child are extremely important. Clearly, I have touched a raw nerve, and I was hoping to be non-political. I was slightly confused by the Opposition amendment. Perhaps they are now saying that they will support Second Reading.
The hon. Gentleman went through a long list of charities that he reckons support the Bill. Not one of those charities has contacted me in Gloucestershire. Could it be because they are beginning to see the reality of the Government's policy through the wholesale closure—despite the Secretary of State's denial—of special schools in the county? Is that why those organisations in Gloucestershire do not support the Bill?
I was not "reckoning" that those organisations support the Bill: I was quoting what they had said to me in writing. I can let the hon. Gentleman have my file of letters. With respect, if the hon. Gentleman is not aware of the position taken on the Bill by those organisations that is his problem.
My hon. Friend forgets to tell Conservative Members that the special education consortium not only welcomes the Bill, but it is so anxious to get the legislation that it is seeking no further amendments to it.
I am extremely grateful for that contribution. I do not of know about the postal services in Tewkesbury, but everyone else seems to be aware of the support of those organisations.
Part II addresses a major gap in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which did not embrace education in equal rights legislation. The Bill is a major plank in the Government's strategy to secure comprehensive and enforceable civil rights for disabled people.
I am tempted to say—I cannot resist temptation—that the 1995 Act was not introduced because the Government of the day wanted it. Indeed, they had been assiduous in trying to prevent such legislation. They had blocked a previous Bill in such a ham-fisted and devious manner that it led to a massive public outcry, and the DDA was introduced on the hoof. It is frequently pointed out that when the Bill came back from the other place there were more pages of amendments tabled by the then Government to their own legislation than there were pages in the original Bill. I mention that merely to point out that the DDA was drafted on the hoof by a Government who did not want it. It is hardly surprising that the DDA is seriously flawed: it did not provide for a Disability Rights Commission; it contained a too narrow definition of disability and a small firm exemption under the employment provisions; and it excluded education.
After the election, the Government set up the taskforce to consider how best to proceed—initially, with the establishment of the Disability Rights Commission. That provision reached the statute book in 1999, and the commission opened its doors in April last year. The Government have recently responded to the taskforce's recommendations for further improvements in legislation. It is important to put this Bill in that context.
I am delighted that, on the definition of disability, the DDA is to be extended to provide legal protection to those with non-symptomatic cancer or HIV, that small employers are to be covered, and that, before Christmas, in the other place, the Government inrtroduced this Bill on access to education. This is part of wider and substantial disability agenda.
There is still a lot to do, as my right hon. Friend said, and we could all raise some issues for attention in the future. However, by any fair assessment, there is a dramatic contrast between the Governnment's policies on disability and those of their predecessor. I am proud to be a supporter of a Government with such a record. I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues, past and present, who have brought about these progressive changes. The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge). who is present, and her predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Howarth), have worked on the disability rights agenda, and I am proud to be associated with them. They have done and are doing a fantastic job.
I want to refer to funding, and particularly the schools access initiative, which my right hon. Friend has already mentioned. Although we all know that the provision of more public money is not the only way in which to improve people's lives, on many occasions it makes a fair amount of difference, and this initiative is a classic example of that.
While I am in the mood for congratulation, let me congratulate Scope and the National Union of Teachers. Readers of the New Statesman—who, no doubt, include Members in all corners of the Chamber—will have observed an advertisement in this week's issue congratulating the Government on their spending programmes for the schools access initiative. One of the first documents that I read on becoming a Member of Parliament in 1992 was a report produced by Scope and the NUT, entitled "Within Reach." It basically said "We really do not know very much about access". A year later, the two organisations produced a report telling us rather more about the subject—and, I am delighted to say, the schools access, initiative was established by the last Government as a result.
The New Statesman advertisement reminds me that allocations have increased dramatically under the present Government. My right hon. Friend has already given the figures. The fact that we are currently spending five times more on the access initiative than the last Government spent during their last year in office, and that in two years' time we shall be spending 10 times as much, illustrates the priority that we have attached to the programme. It is a wonderful programme, which deals with key access issues. The standards fund for special educational needs has also been increased dramatically: this year it will be three times larger than it was during the final year of the last Government.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Conservatives also consider the report on schools access to be constructive and worth while? It is not merely a paean of praise for the past practice of either Government; it issues some interesting and pointed directions for the future, suggesting that there should be—as it were—better access to the access initiative, and that it should be distributed more equitably in that more schools should be made aware of it.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that as constructive comment, which is what it was intended to be?
With pleasure: I agree with all that the hon. Gentleman has said.
As we know, the Bill was considered at length in the other place. I now recognise the relevance of my right hon. Friend's invocation of Humpty Dumpty: it was especially apt in view of what I have heard so far, and, more important, what I discovered when I read the record of debates in the other place.
The Government have given a number of welcome undertakings as a result of those debates, but I feel that three issues are still worthy of comment. Clause 1 is a Humpty Dumpty clause, is it not? To a large extent, it is a question of how people interpret certain words and phrases. Under the Bill as it stands, a pupil with special educational needs and a statement must be educated in a mainstream school, unless that is incompatible with the wishes of the parent or the efficient education of other children. I realise that the Opposition would like a third condition to be included. May I make a comment that I do not intend to be dogmatic? It relates to an issue that others have raised. Of course I respect the wishes of parents, but it must be said that the wishes of a parent and those of a child are not exactly the same.
In the other place, there was much discussion of how the child's best interests and the wishes of the child—the child's voice—could be taken into account. Comparisons were made with the provisions of the Children Act 1989, which require account to be taken of the child's wishes. The Government argued that, if such a provision were included in this Bill, children who could benefit from inclusion could be prevented from gaining a mainstream place. That is possible, but it is not entirely obvious that it would happen.
I welcome the Government's assurance that the child's views would be given clear prominence, as an important principle in the revised code of practice. This is a difficult problem to which I can offer no simple solution, but which we need to address increasingly as society pays more attention to the views of children as well as those of their parents.
I note that the taskforce did not recommend the retention of the condition relating to efficient education. I agree with my noble Friends Lord Ashley, Lord Morris and Lord Rix—I usually agree with them on matters such as this—that reference to efficient education could leave a loophole enabling local education authorities to exclude from mainstream education SEN children who would otherwise benefit from it. However, I acknowledge the Government's assurance that mainstream places would be refused in only a small number of cases.
My final reservation is one that some of my colleagues are expecting. The Bill refers to the remedies available to disabled children who experience discrimination. The Government have argued that if a child experiences discrimination on the ground of disability, the educational remedy is appropriate. I consider that remedy to be the most important, but I agree with what was said about the issue in the other place. It was pointed out there that if a child were refused a place on a school trip on the ground of race or gender, the case could be pursued, with financial compensation being a remedy at the end of the day. Under the Bill, if a child were refused a place on the trip on the ground of disability, financial compensation would not be possible.
I appreciate that, given the way in which the new tribunals are being structured, the Government rightly want to minimise antagonism and conflict. I am reluctant to say more than this: there is currently an inequity in the approach to discrimination in education, which depends on whether that discrimination takes place on the ground of disability or on the ground of race or gender. I hope that the maximum range of remedies will be considered in regard to disability discrimination.
Despite those small reservations, I think that the Bill constitutes a massive step forward. More important, disability organisations, parents' groups and local education authorities see it as such. A number of organisations have gone out of their way to tell most Members that they think it should be passed as quickly as possible, and I hope that no Member will do anything to prevent that this evening. This is a landmark Bill, which should be supported with enthusiasm.
1 welcome the Bill, and pay tribute to the way in which it was handled in another place. It was handled in just the way a Bill of such sensitivity should be handled. I am thinking especially of the Government's responses to criticisms from, in particular, lobbying organisations. Bills of this kind should not be dealt with in a party political fashion. The hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) was right to say that the Bill is yet another staging post along the route on which we started in 1979 with the Warnock report, and on which we have travelled since.
Liberal Democrat Members welcome the Bill's two underlying themes. First, disability should never be a barrier to access to mainstream education. I do not think that any hon. Member would not support that principle. Secondly, unlike some official Opposition Members, we believe that there should be a presumption that, whenever possible, children with special educational needs or with disabilities should be educated with their peers. We believe that that is an issue of natural justice that should be enshrined in law, and that the Bill goes some way towards meeting that goal.
We welcome many of the Bill's provisions. The establishment of parent partnerships to try to resolve disputes is one of the issues that has bedevilled special needs education for so long. I have been closely associated with that issue for many years. Nothing is more unseemly than to hi ye a dispute about where to place a child with special needs or to argue about a child's statement. There have often been such disputes, and we welcome action to resolve them.
The Government expect that the Bill will enable, both at local education authority level and at school level, planning for access for youngsters with special educational needs. That issue has not been mentioned so far in the debate, but we welcome that provision. However, in Committee we shall be arguing for a proper implementation timetable. It is no good simply saying that we should have planning. As we know from so much experience in schools and local education authorities, planning can become a distant ambition rather than a means of producing tangible outcomes.
Liberal Democrat Members also support the Bill's minor provision on the duty to inform parents if their child has a special educational need. It might seem obvious, but there are still many cases in which schools do not inform parents of such needs, even when children have been placed on stage 1 or stage 2 of the register. It is important that parents should be informed, although it is often hurtful to parents to receive the information.
We welcome the fact that the Bill addresses the issue of disability discrimination, to which I shall return later in my speech. We particularly welcome removal of the third caveat, in section 316 of the Education Act 1996, on the efficient use of resources. That was a cop-out clause, then section, and we are delighted that it is being removed.
We particularly welcome the emendations to section 329 in the 1996 Act, as they will allow schools or other responsible bodies to begin the statementing process. So often, relying solely on parents or on some other type of intervention to begin the process has bedevilled the child's best interests. I hope that, in her reply, the Minister will clarify whether parents will have the right to veto the process once it has been started by a school. I support the principle of allowing schools to begin the process, but we should know where the duty of the school or other responsible body—such as a health authority—to the child begins and where the parents' duty ends.
I closely followed the debate on the Bill in the other place. Lord Northbourne, Lord Rix, Lord Ashley, Baroness Darcy de Knaythe and my hon. Friend Baroness Sharp of Guildford made particularly cogent contributions in speaking to various amendments. Lords Rix and Ashley have of course contributed for many years to disability rights and special needs legislation. We appreciate their many contributions.
Despite what I shall say in a moment, I think that it would be churlish not to express our thanks to Baroness Blatch. Her scrutiny of the Bill in another place was, to put it mildly, very thorough, and it was consistent with much work done by previous Conservative Administrations since 1981. Indeed, the way in which those Administrations progressed from Baroness Warnock's 1979 report to the 1981, 1993 and 1996 Education Acts, to make special needs a real issue in schools, was one of the hallmarks of those Administrations—[interruption.] Perhaps it was too good to last.
I think that the hon. Member for Kingswood was a little churlish in his comments on the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Although one tends to remember the unseemly scenes of father and daughter fighting that was important legislation. I pay tribute to the fact that it was passed.
How sad, however, that on Third Reading in the other place, and, today, on Second Reading in this place, the official Opposition should sink so low as to seek to stop the Bill's progress. It is especially sad when one considers the record of those past Governments and the record of some of their colleagues in the other place.
Baroness Blatch and the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) purport to raise as their standard the best interests of the child, and they do so as if the best interests of the child were not already enshrined in a host of legislation. It is sad that anyone working with children in schools, local authorities or the independent sector should not have children's best interests at heart. Although I appreciate why Conservative Members are seeking to make the change, it is sad that we should have to make such provision in legislation.
Conservative Members believe that the omission of such provision in the Bill is sufficient reason to deny all children with special educational needs; and disabilities the opportunities that the Bill would make possible. Denying them that opportunity would be the consequence of accepting Conservative Members' reasoned amendment.
The amendment is only a hollow gesture. The best interests of the child will be served by guaranteeing that the Bill receives Royal Assent before the general election. Every one of the special needs and disability lobbyists who have been involved in the issue over very many years will never forgive Conservative Members if they halt the Bill's progress.
I think that the hon. Gentleman has the issue upside down. People who have children with special educational needs are concerned that their children will not receive an appropriate education. Can he also tell us why the Liberal Democrats in Gloucestershire have driven through a closure programme since publication of the Government's Green Paper?
I cannot speak for my colleagues in Gloucestershire or elsewhere; they must speak for themselves. Clearly, they are elected locally to act in the best interests of youngsters in Gloucestershire, and I have no doubt that they have done so to the very best of their abilities.
As the Secretary of State for Education and Employment said, the record of the previous Conservative Government shows that as many special schools closed between 1992 to 1997 as between 1997 and now. I am not in a position to know whether it was right or wrong to close those schools. The reality is that schools close as the education system moves on. I have often been involved in school closures.
The Secretary of State did not relate the number of school closures to demand. The truth is that over the 15-year period detailed by the Secretary of State, the number of statements has risen dramatically and our understanding, identification and analysis of special needs have moved on apace. To quote numbers irrespective, and out of the context, of changing demand is disingenuous and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will dissociate himself from it.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point. He surprises me, as he has not done his homework. He has looked at one side of the argument. He is right that the number of statements has increased dramatically, but the number of students who are in special schools has remained fairly constant, at about 98,000 to 100,000 for each of the past 10 years. To answer the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), that means that in some places special schools will close and in others they will open. That is the nature of an evolving education system. We must not simply create an education system in aspic. However, I will return to the subject of special schools; no doubt the hon. Gentleman will be delighted with what I have to say.
Just because the number of children with statements has risen does not necessarily mean that the desire for places in special schools has risen. There is a recognition that many children in mainstream education need records of need, in Scotland, or statements, in England and Wales.
I am pleased to echo the hon. Lady's comments.
The one thing that I thought was missing from the speech of the hon. Member for Maidenhead was how special needs and the provisions of disability legislation would he delivered in free-for-all schools. How is that to be achieved? We have had two U-turns within eight days on the free schools policy, but there has been a dramatic U-turn today also. Suddenly, special needs responsibility is no longer to be completely devolved to schools, but will be held by the successor body.
I hope that we can now close this silly argument. Right from the first day the free schools policy was enunciated, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and I have made it clear that the assessment and statementing process will remain a local authority function. There is nothing new. It is merely a reiteration of something that we decided more than 18 months ago.
That is yet another revelation; something that many hon. Members will have heard for the first time. The £540 extra that every school is to get for every student includes all the funding for special needs, transport and every other administrative cost. The Conservatives cannot say on the one hand that they will give that to schools and, on the other, that they will keep the most expensive functions centrally. Where is the money to come from? Perhaps the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) will explain later. Some 24,500 separate schools—each with its own independent admissions policy—would mean that special educational needs and disabilities provision would be put back at least 10, if not 20, years. That is too horrendous to contemplate.
The hon. Gentleman tempts me to go further. I am sure that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, would wish me to get back to the Bill.
My noble Friend Baroness Sharp was castigated on Third Reading in the House of Lords for changing her mind in respect of supporting the amendment on the interests of the child that was proposed to clause 1. I defend her, because she bothered to listen to all the organisations that wanted the amendment dropped, and responded accordingly. She was right not to allow an amendment in the House of Lords that would have ping-ponged here and back again and would have had exactly the effect that the hon. Member for Maidenhead and her hon. Friends want—to delay the Bill and to prevent it being enacted before the general election. That is shameful, and I am delighted that my noble Friend was tough enough to stand up to the bullies in the other place.
I have enormous admiration for the hon. Gentleman's understanding of and commitment to these subjects, but he is again being slightly disingenuous. The Conservative party did not choose when to propose the Bill. The Conservative party will not choose when to hold the general election. Frankly, to suggest that the squeezing of the Bill into its narrow timetable is somehow the responsibility of the official Opposition is a distortion of the facts.
That intervention was not worthy of the hon. Gentleman. He knows that my hon. Friends and I met the Secretary of State nearly 18 months ago to give our support to the Bill and to ensure that it reached the statute book. We were committed to ensuring that we tabled amendments and debated the principal issues, but we wanted to see the Bill on the statute book.
During the Third Reading debate in the House of Lords, we were able to extract from the Government an important change to the original clause 12, which would have driven a coach and horses through attempts to make sure that young people were able to get mainstream education. That clause contained a number of caveats—concerning, for instance, the need to maintain academic, musical, sporting and other standards, and the financial resources available to the responsible body—all of which would have undermined exactly what the Government, my party and, I hope, the official Opposition are trying to do with the Bill.
My association with special needs education goes back a long way. I have spent almost the whole of my life in schools where there have been significant populations of disadvantaged youngsters and children with special needs. Working in Chapeltown in the late 1960s convinced me that unless we could educate the whole community together—wherever they came from and whatever their needs or disabilities—frankly, we would breed dysfunctional communities. It is a point of principle to me and my colleagues that inclusive education goes to the heart of the education system.
As head of two schools in Middlesbrough and Leeds, I found it interesting to see the development take place. When I see the posturing of certain hon. Members, I think of those young people who have been denied access to mainstream education simply because of the local authority area in which they lived: the post code lottery. That cannot be right and, hopefully, the Bill—and in particular the comments of the Secretary of State earlier—will have made that clear.
Current legislation may have been well intended, but the caveats in section 2 of the 1981 Act—repeated by section 316 of the 1996 Act—allowed LEAs and schools to refuse entry to children on the grounds of the efficient use of resources. That was not right. Ricky Corner, a youngster severely disabled by thalidomide, was in my school in Middlesbrough 20 years ago. He would not have been allowed to sit on the science bench, using his mouth and toes to do his science experiments, in a great number of schools; but thanks to an enlightened local authorityCleveland—and the dedicated staff whom I worked with, he could at ours. That was 20 years ago.
Carrie, a girl with Down's syndrome—she caused a lot of work for me—and severe behavioural difficulties would not have been allowed to enter most schools in Leeds when I was there in the 1980s, but thanks to the support of the local authority and dedicated staff, she could enter ours.
Mark was totally blind and came from one of the most deprived estates in Leeds. With his inspirational teacher at the school for the blind, he fought to be allowed to enter mainstream education. He would not now be a lawyer in one of London's main firms had it not been for inclusive education and the results that it achieved. I rejected that young man because my school had four blocks, each of which had stairs. I did not think that Mark would be able to cope, but other people persuaded us that he would cope, and that he should be allowed to cope. That made a huge difference.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me a second time, and I appreciate the moving examples he has cited. However, does he accept that similar examples could be offered of children who plead to be allowed to go to special schools?
I certainly agree that it is not an either/or proposition. People who say that it is are wrong. Each child must be considered as an individual: my premise is that no child should be denied access to mainstream education simply because of his or her special need or disability.
Thousands of examples of children such as Ricky, Carrie or Mark could be cited, but I contend that the real advantage of inclusive education is felt not by the child with a disability, but by the rest of the community. That important principle needs to be understood. We live in a world that is embarrassed by physical, sensory or cognitive impairment. People who are different are perceived as a threat, but I assure the House that that does not happen when children grow up together in school communities. Ensuring that children grow up together in that way will help to overcome a great many barriers.
On 1 March, Lord Baker said in the House of Lords that never in his 30 years as a Member of Parliament had parents of a child with a disability or with special needs come to him and asked that their child be allowed to go to a mainstream school. I found that a really sad comment, because parents come to me with exactly that request all the time. The real crisis in my constituency, and with the local authority with which I worked, is that so many parents want their children to be normal and to enjoy the same opportunities as other children. I am saddened that we cannot give them that chance.
The hon. Member for Kingswood was right when he mentioned all the organisations that have written to us. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Tewkesbury has not received the same series of letters—perhaps they have not been sent to Gloucestershire.
So do I, but I am pretty sure that all the disability and special educational needs organisations are not conspiring against Gloucestershire. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Tewkesbury will receive the letters.
All the organisations want the Bill to go forward, but a number of matters need to be addressed. We touched on the question of resources earlier. We can use all the fine words and say all the nice things that we like, but they will come to nought without the resources to back them up. As the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) pointed out, the Secretary of State's response to me was totally inconclusive: the Bill is litter with resource implications, but he did not say where the extra resources would come from.
Plans cannot be made for access programmes in every school in a local authority area without incurring a bill of significant size. I accept that £222 million over three years is being made available for access, but that will just scratch the surface. That total, divided by all the schools in England and Wales, comes to about £10,000 a school over three years. The research by the NUT and Scope entitled "Within Reach" said that £625 million was needed to meet access needs in schools.
No mention has yet been made of the fact that the Bill also covers further and higher education. In the further education sector, £172 million has been allocated for access, but the small print makes it clear that colleges can get that money only if they find match funding. So £172 million will have to be taken out of further education budgets that are incredibly tight already in order to access the £172 million from the Government. That is not acceptable, given that the Bill is a piece of primary legislation that requires colleges to act.
The next problem has to do with revenue funding. The Secretary of State has made vague commitments—and he was vague again today—about money coming from the standards fund. Other hon. Members may know differently, but my experience is than, every school that I visit is using its standards fund money to the hilt. There is no spare money sloshing around in that fund at the moment, which means that something would have to be cut to provide the necessary extra resources. I hope that the Minister, when she responds, will not say that the £25 million announced today is sufficient to meet all the requirements: it is not.
Two major elements of expenditure are involved in ensuring access to the curriculum. The first is staff training: inclusive education means that every member of staff in a school has to be trained. There is nothing in the Government's proposals to say that that is a requirement or need, or that what goes on in teacher training establishments will be changed. However, if inclusive education is to be the norm, the question of staff training must be dealt with.
The second element of expenditure arises out of ensuring access to the curriculum. It is no good if children can access buildings but not the curriculum. The Secretary of State rightly mentioned the impact of information and communication technology. The effect will be profound, as children with sensory, physical and sight impairments will be able to use equipment and machinery. However, it is enormously expensive to put loops into every classroom, to invest in ICT that is supportive of youngsters with disabilities, to acquire adapted technology, and to establish the necessary support in the school infrastructure. The Government must come clean and say where the extra resources will come from.
My final point on the question of resources has to do with statements. All hon. Members in the House today—and, I presume, over the past 10 years—will be used to parents saying at surgery meetings that what is contained in the statements that they have received is not being delivered. To be fair to the Secretary of State, he has made a clear statement today about responding to criticisms of the code of practice, and we must praise him for that. However, it has been noted already that there has been a 27 per cent. increase in the number of statements issued since 1994. We have been told that resourcing for that is not guaranteed, but statements make no particular difference if they are not supported by the necessary resources. Again, I hope that the Under-Secretary will respond to that point in due course.
I shall conclude by dealing with special schools. One myth is that those of us who fervently support the inclusive agenda are somehow against special schools. and that the proposition is therefore either/or. Another myth is that special schools are closing by the day, that soon none will be left and that no one will be able to make a choice in the matter. In that regard, Gloucestershire is clearly different from the rest of the United Kingdom, but I must take the word of the hon. Member for Tewkesbury on that point.
I mentioned earlier that the number of youngsters going to special schools has been virtually unchanged for the past 10 years. The reality is that it is unlikely to change in the next 10 years as well. We will still need significant special school education provision for many of our youngsters. However, the disabilities and needs of children in special schools are becoming ever greater because the inclusive agenda ensures that youngsters who can move into mainstream education are doing so. We must therefore look at special schools in a different way.
We must re-examine the role of special schools in our school communities and education services. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who is no longer in his place, touched on this. I see special schools not simply as centres of excellence but as research and development establishments for good practice that can be spread across the entire education service. Special schools need to be linked, in research terms, to universities to make sure that we are always at the leading edge of education provision, in terms not simply of teaching aids but of teaching methodology elsewhere
This is an interesting and worthwhile Bill. I earnestly hope that the hon. Member for Maidenhead, who has, like the grand old Duke of York, marched her troops to the top of the hill, will decide to take them back down again and support the Bill's Second Reading.
For the reasons so well articulated by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), I support this very good piece of legislation.
I am sure that this debate will attract many expert and informed contributions, such as the one we have just heard from the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis). Unlike many of the other hon. Members who may seek to catch your eye in this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have no such experience on which to draw. I have no significant background in the issues with which the Bill deals. However, when I practised law, I was regularly in front of the sheriff court representing families whose children should have had records of needs—or statements, as they are known in England. I also represented families whose children had records of needs but whose local education authority could not provide the resources necessary to fulfil the demands that those records of needs entailed. I always felt that that was a distinctly inappropriate way in which to deal with matters relating to education.
The second half of the Bill applies to Scotland and if it improves the situation there in any way, it will have served a significant purpose. I will come back in a few moments to the role that the sheriff court plays in education in Scotland.
I appreciate the fact that the hon. Gentleman has given way to me on that vital point. So many education authorities did not make statements because they did not have the necessary finance. Will the hon. Gentleman join Opposition Members in pressing the Government to provide the extra resources that will be needed to make the Bill what we want it to be?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. Resources are, of course, the key to delivering the Bill's objectives. I am speaking post evolution, at a time when the responsibility for providing such resources in Scotland lies with the Scottish Executive, which is answerable to the Scottish Parliament. Already more resources are being made available for education in Scotland. The delivery of those resources in some respects increases the distinctiveness of Scotland's system of education from that in England and Wales.
I am satisfied that the Government will deliver the resources that are necessary to achieve the objectives of this legislation in Scotland. My local authority is already doing a significant amount in that respect.
As I said, I am a relative newcomer to these issues, and I am very grateful to the Royal National Institute for the Blind, Scotland and to Children in Scotland for helping me to understand some of these provisions and to work my way through the implications for Scotland. I could have doubled the list cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood of organisations supporting the legislation, wishing it a fair wind and wishing to see it enacted very soon, simply by adding the word "Scotland" to the name of every organisation that he mentioned. I was tempted to make an intervention at the time, but I thought that the point would probably be better made in my speech.
The Under-Secretary responsible for disabled people and disability rights, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), who is unfortunately no longer in the Chamber to hear this, met with those organisations, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) and myself on 27 February to discuss some of the Bill's implications for Scotland. It was a very constructive meeting. On behalf of us all, may I say how grateful we are to tire Minister and the civil servants in her Department? It is comparatively unusual, these days, for a Scottish Member of Parliament to have such meetings with civil servants in that Department. The civil servants were extremely helpful and their understanding of the differences in relation to Scotland was encouraging. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary undertook to write to the relevant Minister in the Scottish Executive, and she has done so. I am sure that progress will be made. I hope that my hon. Friend's fellow Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), will forgive me if I go on to raise some of the issues that we discussed, because it is important that they are put on the record.
I say that this is a good piece of legislation for the same reasons as all other right hon. and hon. Members. It will advance significantly the educational opportunities of pupils and students is with disabilities and special educational needs. I support wholeheartedly the principle of inclusive education. From the experience of my constituents, inclusive education, when properly provided, adds to the lives of our children, improves educational standards and benefits child and parent alike. I agree with the hon. Members for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and for Harrogate and Knaresborough that, through it, children come to value difference and treat their colleagues with the respect they deserve. My own children have learned from the experience
Although inclusive education presents teachers with a professional challenge, they, too, learn from experience. They are able to translate positive skills for the benefit of all young people in their care. As I see it, this is a win, win situation.
An integrated inclusive approach to education is of paramount importance in a modern education service. I recognise that there are many benefits to individual students with special needs in East Ayrshire schools who are included in local educational provision—a practice that is positively promoted and supported in the council's education and social services department. For example, a blind pupil who attended a Kilmarnock school has gone on to Strathclyde university. The most important aspect of that man's experience of school was that his accomplishment as a musician was encouraged through performance in school shows and the annual East Ayrshire showcase. That involvement would have been denied him had he not been included in mainstream education.
One deaf young person had a distinguished academic career in a Kilmarnock school before going on to Glasgow university. Even before leaving school, he was an articulate advocate for the deaf community, engaging regularly in advanced debates with council officers about service provision for people with disabilities. He became a leading figure in his school community
A number of autistic spectrum children are totally integrated within the mainstream school setting in my constituency. Another fine example is the facility for children of secondary school age that has been established at Grange academy for about 20 years now. Young people with hearing impairments are supported in a purpose-built base, but their main learning takes place in classrooms beside, and on the same basis as, children of the same age. In that way, the pupils become fully integrated into the life of the school and its wider community; they are able to participate in the same range of artistic, sporting and cultural activities enjoyed by that it peer group. They are able to gain exactly the same range and nature of qualifications as other young people. That important point was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood.
More important, the Grange hearing-impaired pupils have learned to relate to their classmates on an equal footing. In turn, their peers accept them as equals, learning about their culture and sign language, and befriending them on an equal basis.
My final example relates to a young student in an East Ayrshire secondary school who has a most complex package of educational, social work and learning support. but who has been successfully integrated into the school. Furthermore, because the education department was the sole pilot authority for the education maintenance allowance scheme in Scotland, many young people—some with exceptional needs—have been helped and supported in the community with a financial bonus to stay in education.
My contribution to the debate will focus on the Scottish dimensions of the Bill. Its passage through another place has been especially interesting to me as a Scottish Member. This is the first occasion, post-devolution, that Parliament has considered equal opportunities legislation that has an impact on a devolved matter—education. Although serious efforts have been made by the DFEE to take account of the differences in the Scottish education system, some questions remain—perhaps inevitably. It is those questions that I want to address. I will argue that, in order to ensure clarity in implementation, a separate Scottish code of practice should he drafted by the Scottish Disability Rights Commission to accompany the legislation in Scotland.
Members will be well aware that Scotland has a distinct system of education—I am sure that many of my predecessors from Scotland will have told the House that often enough. Of particular relevance to today's debate are the differences relating to special educational needs. For example, unlike England and Wales, Scotland does not have a special educational needs tribunal system, nor do we have statementing. Moreover, the Scottish equivalent to statementing—the record of needs—is soon likely to be abolished, or at least substantially reviewed. Those expected reforms come in response both to withering criticism of the record of needs procedure from every quarter of the Scottish education scene, and to this year's highly critical final report of the Scottish Parliament's Education, Culture and Sport Committee into special education needs.
I highlight those differences because the provisions of the Bill that proved most controversial in Scotland appear to be predicated precisely on statementing and SEN tribunal arrangements that pertain only to England and Wales. The two most controversial provisions are the lack of a right to financial recompense for disabled schoolchildren who have experienced discrimination, and the exemption from the duty of reasonable adjustment of auxiliary aids and services and of physical features. I shall briefly deal with each of those provisions.
On the thorny question of financial recompense, I preface my comments by saying that I share the Secretary of State's emphasis on the prime importance of educational remedies in cases of disability discrimination. The problem arises in the minority of cases where no educational remedy is available. In that connection. I received a briefing from a Scottish disability charity which asks:
If a final year disabled pupil fails a GCSE or Standard Grade because they had not been given access to a field trip or had missed out on essential handouts and course books in accessible formats, what remedy would there be? What action by the school could put that right?
The Scottish dimension to that matter is that as there is no SEN tribunal structure in Scotland, cases under this measure will be heard in the sheriff court. Indeed, that same sheriff court could—under this measure—offer financial recompense to a 16-year-old disabled Scot at college, but not to a 16-year-old disabled Scot at school. More generally, it seems odd that a disabled school pupil can receive financial recompense from a shopkeeper, but not from his or her education authority when no educational remedy is possible.
Although the sectors in England and Wales may be somewhat divided in their view of financial recompense in cases where an education remedy is not available, the Scottish sector is united. Indeed, it is as united on that matter as it is on its wish to see the Bill enacted. Joint amendments on the issue were drafted for another place by RNIB Scotland, the Law Society of Scotland and the Children in Scotland consortium. Although I am not supporting any amendments at this stage in the Bill's passage, the issue may have to be revisited at a future date.
The second controversial provision in the Bill, from my perspective, is the exclusion from the reasonable adjustment duty both of auxiliary aids and services and of physical access to schools. Again, there is a Scottish dimension: the record of needs system, which should provide the necessary support for disabled pupils, patently does not work. Indeed, in a submission to the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, the Forum on Scottish Education stated:
The Record of Needs procedure has been corrupted to the point where its future must be considered. On the one hand, teachers have encouraged the opening of records in order to gain additional resources; on the other hand, education authorities have resisted the opening of them because of fears over the cost implications.
That criticism is all the more devastating when the membership of the forum is reviewed; it comprises all the key players—from the General Teaching Council for Scotland and the Scottish School Boards Association to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the
Scottish TUC. Statementing may be an appropriate basis on which to provide for the needs of disabled pupils in England and Wales, but the record of needs procedure certainly does not currently fulfil that role in Scotland.
I am mindful of the time, so I shall deal quickly with the physical accessibility of schools in rural areas of Scotland. Although it may be possible to invest in the accessibility of schools serving disabled pupils from a wider catchment area in towns and cities, that is not easily achievable in rural Scotland, where the nearest school may be more than 100 miles away.
My final point is on the case for a separate Scottish code of practice. Scottish education is distinct—it always has been; post-devolution, it is diverging even more from the system in England and Wales. There is thus a strong lobby in Scotland for a separate Scottish code of practice, drafted by the Scottish Disability Rights Commission. That will avoid something that we have had to put up with for years: Anglocentric legislation with references to Scotland in footnotes and between brackets.
The Bill should be viewed alongside recent measures that significantly enhance the effectiveness of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, such as the creation of the Disability Rights Commission. The failure of the Conservative Government to extend the DDA to education has long been highlighted by disability campaigners as a major weakness of that legislation. The Bill addresses that weakness, and it does so for Scotland; the Secretary of State and the Government should rightly feel proud of that.
Like the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne), I am neither an education expert nor an expert in special educational needs—I apologise for that. I have four brief points on the Bill.
A cross-party consensus, in which I share, has already been expressed. It was referred to by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis). There is cross-party consensus on the desirability of mainstreaming pupils with disabilities wherever possible. As noted by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, that was the thrust of section 316 of the Conservative Government's Education Act 1996. Furthermore, our agreement reflects an international consensus—the UNESCO Salamanca statement in 1994 was in favour of inclusive education.
The first of the four points that I want to make is that there is this consensus among the well-meaning. Among hon. Members, including myself, the basic philosophy is that, wherever possible, children should be fitted psychologically and educationally for life in normal society, and alongside that consensus we have the necessary set of buzzwords—if I may dare call them that—"integration" and "inclusiveness". Who could possibly be in favour of disintegration and exclusiveness?
My second point is that the history of social policy tells us that well-meaning intentions often give rise to unexpected and, indeed, perverse consequences. It is now generally accepted that the classic case of that was the Seebohm report and its consequences on provision for the mentally ill. Even in the relatively limited and more recent field of special educational needs provision that rule can be seen to work.
Last year, the Centre for Policy Studies published a pamphlet, by Dr. John Marks, on special educational needs. It showed how the numbers involved have increased well Ahead of the expectations when the legislation was introduced and suggested some reasons for that, not all of which I agree with. Let me put the figures on the record. Since 1991, the number of pupils with special educational needs, but without statements—the English nomenclature—have increased from 11.6 to 19.2 per cent. of those in primary school, and from 9.6 to 16.5 per cent. of those in secondary schools. The numbers of pupils with special educational needs has increased from 0.8 to 1.6 per cent. of those in primary schools, and from 1 to 2.5 per cent. of those in secondary schools.
Dr. Marks speculates that one reason for that growth may be the coincidence of the introduction of the special educational needs policy with that of national performance tables for schools, which gives incentives to schools, he argues, to protect themselves from complaints about low performance by increasing SEN numbers. That is one explanation Another, perhaps more plausible, explanation, which will ring a bell with all of us who have had the experience in our surgeries that has been mentioned several times, is that parents may believe that they have an interest in getting their children statemented—recognised as having special educational needs—so as to attract additional support and funding to their children. So I come to my third point.
One of the reasons; why good intentions in social policy so often miss their mark is that insufficient regard is paid to the economic incentives that changes in policy bring into play. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) has always spoken strongly on that point, and I agree with him about it. Let me illustrate that with some rough figures. A statemented child in Oxfordshire is likely to receive on top of the provision for ordinary children about 10 to 20 hours a week of "learning support assistance", which will add roughly 50 per cent. to the normal unit costs for an ordinary child. That has at least two economic consequences.
First, as I have said, parents become very interested in the extra provision in our generally under-financed state education system. So there are the strong pressures, with which all hon. Members are familiar from their surgeries, from parents on LE As and schools for more and better statements. Incidentally, the procedural reforms in the Bill, which I support, represent an attempt to address those pressures, but the Bill will do nothing about the underlying economic forces that drive the process.
The second economic consequence is that the LEAs and ultimately the Treasury—we must never forget the power of the Treasury, which hovers like a shadow over all our proceedings—are undoubtedly increasingly concerned about the rising cost. That brings me to my fourth and last point
The concern about the mounting costs of special educational needs provision threatens the range and quality of special reeds education. That is the point referred to in the amendment tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench. Again let us consider some figures. Oxfordshire's special schools use a banding system. A child in band 3, with moderate learning difficulties, attracts current funding of about £3,000 a year. A child in band 7, with profound and multiple learning difficulties, attracts about £7,000 of current spending a year. Relative to the cost of the current provision for an ordinary child, those are high figures—multiples ranging from two to six are involved. And of course the figures are also high in relation to the cost of provision in mainstream education for special needs children, with or without statements.
Cynicism would not be an appropriate note to strike in a debate of this kind, where we are all being high-minded, but I wonder whether we could not speculate a little on whether the growing consensus, among us well-meaning people, in favour of mainstreaming might have something to do with the economic incentives to reduce the unit costs of the growing demands for special educational needs provision.
I strongly support the aspiration—which has been expressed on both sides of the House, including by the Secretary of State—in favour of maintaining a range of high-quality special schools alongside the important trend of mainstreaming children with special educational needs. However, I agree with my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that that aspiration may need to be more fully articulated in Committee. I need not reiterate the arguments for special schools alongside those for mainstreaming, but I am concerned about the underlying trends that I have described.
Again, let me propose a simple economic equation. The more special educational needs children are mainstreamed, the fewer will be available to attend special schools, so the unit costs of provision in those schools will be higher. Some of us have already picked up the dialogue and know that arguments of the following kind will be articulated. Some may say, "Of course these kids' needs are very serious, but surely it isn't fair that they should get such a large share of the cake." Some may say, "Any way, inclusion and integeration are best for the children." The bottom line is that others may say, "The truth is some parents are too pushy."
The Bill is a well-meaning measure, but I do not believe that some of the important facts of life in special education are fully recognised in it. To that extent, it will not improve the situation as much as we all hope it will. That is a matter of regret. The problems are real; our aspirations are for the best, but, as the poet said:
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
It gives me enormous pleasure to support the Bill, which will do so much for children who require special education and their parents. May I say from the outset that I vehemently support neither mainstream nor special schooling; they both have a serious place in the education system. However, I would fight to the death for parents' ability to choose the sort of education that they want for their children. That is precisely what the Bill will do; it will facilitate education and give parents a more equal footing on which to fight for their children's needs, so that they can get exactly what they believe their children should have.
Much has been said in this debate about the loss of special schools. I have to tell the House that Crawley is losing two special schools, but we are going to have one beautiful, new special school, costing more than £6 million. It will be sited close to our mainstream schools to allow integration between schools and to ensure that all services are properly integrated.
I am here also to convey very grateful thanks from all the parents in Crawley. We are still reeling from a recent announcement that there will be £60 million pounds of investment in secondary schools. We cannot believe that that has happened after decades of neglect in Crawley new town. The schools in which I was educated are still using the same equipment, and they can hardly believe that they will receive the investment that they wanted so much from the Government. I wish to highlight that fact, because parents are delighted and want me to thank the ministerial team for making it happen.
Let me make a few comments about new build. Most of us would assume that access for pupils with mobility problems is a given in new buildings. Sadly, that is not true. Many of us have seen examples of new buildings and we cannot quite believe that they do not offer accessibility to pupils who do not have full mobility. Those pupils cannot get into the buildings to use their facilities with their fellow pupils. It is important to focus on that issue. The Bill will ensure that not only do we focus on the needs of individual pupils, but that every new building in the education system is accessible to everyone.
There are many ways to do that, and Crawley gives us an example of good practice. The town access group, known as the TAG team, is at the heart of the planning process in the education system and throughout the town. It consists of people with varying disabilities—some are wheelchair users, some are not sighted and some are deaf—but for all sorts of reasons they have become mobilised to ensure that everyone has access to buildings. The group will be very much involved when the planning process for new schools comes to fruition. It will be shown the plans and encouraged to take an interest in what is going on, so that we avoid the disaster of building a beautiful new school only to find that pupils who wish to go there cannot make their way around it safely and easily. What a message that sends out to young people with disabilities.
Such young people should have access to new buildings without first having to make special arrangements, so that they can take advantage of the new facilities. I hope that the Bill will put that issue at the fore as it proceeds through the House. The party has not finished in Crawley; people are delighted and are looking forward to the time when the schools are up and running.
The other issue that I wish to raise relates to something that most of us would consider to be a hidden disability. It is rarely discussed in school circles, because it is a difficult subject. I am a member of the all-party group on AIDS. Although the number is thankfully still relatively small, a growing number of children have HIV and even more suffer from the hepatitis B infection. Those children want to play a part in mainstream schooling, but their small numbers sometimes mean that it is difficult for them to obtain the education and care that they rightly deserve. That is especially the case for children with HIV who become ill. I hope that the Bill will take account of their needs. As I said, the number of such children is growing and they should be recognised in the Bill.
I hope that the House will give the Bill the fair wind that it deserves, because it will help all parents. We know that inclusivity benefits us all and allows us to flourish as a civilised and healthy nation. I hope that the Bill has a smooth passage, so that we can hold up our heads knowing that we have done the right thing for children with disabilities in the United Kingdom.
Today has been quite an experience, because I welcomed 50 people to the Jubilee Room from the Alderman Knight school in my constituency. The school feels very much under threat because of the policies pursued by Gloucestershire county council and an unholy alliance of Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors.
The county council has already proposed the closure of Bownham Park school in Stroud and I have written to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to ask him what judgment he will make on that proposal. People in Gloucestershire are certainly not persuaded that the school should close, and his decision will give us an indication as to his views on special schools.
I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a close interest in the future of the special schools in his constituency, but does he accept the point, which I have made to him previously, that the final decision is not for the Secretary of State, but for the local school organisation committee? If it is not unanimous, it will then be a matter for an independent adjudicator.
Yes, I accept that, but the school organisation committee has failed to be unanimous, so it will be left to an adjudicator to make the decision. Therefore I do not accept that the decision is entirely out of the Secretary of State's hands. [Interruption.] Well, we shall see what happens. Certainly, Gloucestershire county council was sparked into action by the Government's Green Paper and is proposing to close the special schools.
If the Bill is accepted in its present form, it will be a triumph of theory over practice. When the people from the school visited the House of Commons, almost the entire Conservative Front-Bench team came to listen to their views. Although Ministers were asked many weeks ago to attend and were reminded this week, not one member of the Government team could find even a couple of minutes to call in. Perhaps that reflects their views on special schools. Ministers are shaking their heads, but I do not know why. The invitations were sent out many weeks ago and they were reminded again this week.
A young boy called Brian Beard has not been educated in any school since September, because the local education authority will not recognise his parents' wish for him to be educated in a special school. He was present today, as was another girl. She was in tears as she described how she simply could not cope in a mainstream school. Eventually, she was placed in a special school and she has developed considerably since she has been there.
For many children for whom inclusion has taken place, it is the correct policy. However, it is important to recognise the needs of individual children and they and their parents must decide the best place for their education. The Bill will not give parents that ability. It states that if there is no statement, the child will have to be educated in a mainstream school. The problem, however, is that local authorities are not efficient in their statementing.
My hon. Friend the Minister may correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that local education authorities have to take account of parents' wishes for their child to be educated in a special school. Nothing in the Bill will change that. If that does not happen in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, it is up to him to make sure that it does.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell me how to do that without bringing it to the attention of the Secretary of State and Ministers. It is my job as a Member of Parliament to raise issues with them. That is what I am doing and what I have done many times before. Only a few hours ago, I got the permission of the young boy's parents to One Ministers his name and address if they want it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has good intentions, but the boy has not been educated since September.
I am slightly puzzled by the hon. Gentleman's statement. He describes the situation as it pertains today. Nothing in the Bill will make that the norm. If anything, the Bill will help to ensure that children are appropriately educated, according to the wishes of their parents. He should welcome it.
My reading of the Bill is different. I can only base my comments on the experience in Gloucestershire since the Green Paper was published. The other parties in the council have got together to drive through a programme of closure of special schools. That is the reality. We can talk in this place all we want, but that is what is happening on the ground. I am paid as a Gloucestershire Member of Parliament to bring that to the attention of Ministers and I hope that they will respond.
Many hon. Members—in particular Labour Members—have claimed that children are being denied access to mainstream schools because of their special educational needs. I fully recogonise that that might happen. However, no parent has written to me about that problem. Instead, many parents, inducing those who were here today, have complained that they cannot get places in the special schools that they believe their children deserve.
Heads, teachers, governors and pupils at mainstream schools are concerned about the inclusion policy. They know that if children struggle in mainstream schools, other pupils will suffer as a result. They are not being selfish, and neither are the parents. They merely recognise the reality that children need to go to an appropriate school. As one or two Labour Members stated, that has to happen by considering the needs of individual
Let me tell the House—not for the first time—where I was educated. I was excluded, in the sense that I did not successfully negotiate the 11-plus examination all those years ago. I am neither proud nor ashamed of that and, if I could have my time over again, I would not change the secondary school that I attended. It was a good Church of England school, with a good ethos, and it was right for me. Whether it was the best school in the area is irrelevant.
The girl who spoke at the meeting earlier today was brought to tears when she said, "Nobody is listening to us." We are sat in this place and councillors are sat in Shire hall in Gloucestershire. We come out with fine theories, but no one listens to the parents and pupils who know that they are better off in special schools. The closure of those schools in Gloucestershire makes them wonder why they have elected representatives. The parents, teachers, governors and children in many schools throughout Gloucestershire are expressing a clear wish that is being ignored by hon. Members and members of Gloucestershire county council. No wonder those people are dubious about the role of politicians and have no faith in the democratic process.
Even if we were not having this Second Reading debate, there would he every reason to discuss and celebrate what the Government are doing for children with special needs and disabilities. They introduced the schools access initiative, which received £45 million in the first three years and will get £220 million in the next three. The grant that is available to disabled students who go into further and higher education has doubled. The new deal for disabled people has ensured that they get access to training and skills, which has been a tremendous success. Those measures and the Bill fit into a framework that includes the Disability Rights Commission, the disabled persons tax credit and much stronger disability discrimination legislation, which is better than the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 that we inherited.
We have not heard much about the 1995 Act. Conservative Front-Bench spokesman have not given a feasible explanation as to why education was excluded from it. That omission gave the message to young disabled people they have the right to gain access to a pop concert, a pub for under-age drinking or a video shop, but they do not have the right to gain access to their schools. That is nonsense.
I appeal to the hon. Members for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) and for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) to withdraw their amendment. All three have been—and, in some cases, still are—active members of the all-party parliamentary disablement group. I cannot believe for one moment that they are happy to lead their troops through the Lobby to vote in favour of the amendment and against the Bill on Second Reading.
Having expressed disbelief about our alleged attitudes on some matters, will the hon. Gentleman ponder on the fact that we might have reservations about the Bill? It does not seem odd to me to reflect that in an amendment.
At least two of us have told Conservative Members that. Perhaps there will be a change of heart before 10 o'clock.
There is little disagreement about the principle of inclusion. After all, we meet disabled people every day, we live in a mixed-ability world, and there is wide acknowledgment that it is a positive experience for non-disabled children to mix with disabled children. On the other hand, it is possible that in the past we paid lip service to special educational needs. Perhaps we allowed some special schools to become out of sight and out of mind. Perhaps units within our mainstream schools share a postcode but little else with the school to which they are attached. Perhaps—I speak as a former teacher—some teachers might be quite happy for the special needs department to get on and do the job, as long as they do not have to sully their hands.
I commend the report by Scope and the National Union of Teachers. "Within Reach 3" says that, in 90 per cent. of schools where access initiatives have been implemented and schools have become more inclusive by introducing into the mainstream disabled children and children with special needs, attitudes towards children with disability have improved. There is less bullying, less exclusion and more physical inclusion.
The Bill assumes that education will be inclusive rather than exclusive. It gives all parents the right to send their child to a mainstream school, but it also reserves their right to special education if that is best. I have sympathy with those people who defend the special schools cause for at least one good reason: I think that I am the only Member of Parliament who can use sign language to any extent. I am certainly the only Member of this House who is a trustee of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, although Lord Ashley in the other place is another.
I was present in the Chamber a couple of years ago for an Adjournment debate in which the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) sought to save a school in her constituency which was operated by a London borough and provided a sign language environment in which young deaf children could grow up. She asked the then Education Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), for permission for a trust to be set up to help the school to survive the policies of the distant LEA, which would have closed it, and to set itself up as an independent school. My hon. Friend gave that permission on the night, and I was pleased that we would retain an institution in which deaf children were educated in an environment where sign language was the norm. That is an example—perhaps an ironic one—of a listening Government.
Another example of our listening Government deserves mention. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to it briefly. I refer to the code of practice for statementing. My postbag, particularly in December and January, was full of letters from people complaining about proposals for that code. As a result, the Government withdrew the document that had been put out for consultation and allowed the existing code of practice to proceed. It will not necessarily remain unamended, but the Government listened and said, "Perhaps we haven't got these proposals right. Let's go away and think about them again."
Turning once more to children with a hearing impairment. I want to place on the record the fact that only 14 per cent. of deaf pupils in mainstream schools achieve five or more A to C grades at GCSE, compared with 44 per cent. of hearing children. Some children with a sensory impairment have to travel 20 miles a day to have their special needs met, and many will have had to stay in a special unit or school when integration and development of lip reading and speech skills might have been better for them. That is a different group of children from the one to which I referred a moment ago. Where there are questions of language development, it is particularly important that we accommodate the children concerned.
Some 840 babies are born with a significant hearing impairment each year; 400 of them will have that impairment detected by the age of 18 months, but 200 will not have had it properly detected at the age of three and a half years. That leads us to question whether those children are receiving the right education, help and diagnosis from that early stage.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we can persuade this Government, or a future Government, to introduce universal neonatal hearing screening on a national basis as soon as possible, we could pick up those problems at an earlier stage? We would then both create a problem for ourselves and require that we answer it.
I certainly sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's desire to achieve that aim. Typically, the children to whom I referred are tested by the health visitor distraction test at seven or eight months, but the test is not infallible at that age. Certainly, I agree that we need improvement by one means or another.
That leads me to a situation that I have encountered in my constituency. In Derbyshire, four-year-olds have traditionally gone into primary schools early. We now have universal pre-school education for four-year-olds whose parents want it, and thanks to the Government's policies, we now offer it to three-year-olds. What happens to the two-year-old or three-year-old with special needs? There is a little confusion, to say the least, about who has the responsibility for finding the right help for those children.
I find that people who run pre-school schemes for three-year-olds in the voluntary and private sectors are very uncertain, and indeed scared, about the idea of a child with special needs wanting to enter their group. They call the social worker, but they are not sure whether the problem should be dealt with by social services or by the education or health services. They might have been running the group for only a couple of years, and their basic training will not be sufficient to diagnose special needs properly. Now that we have the opportunity to extend pre-school education to three-year-olds, we have the chance to improve the diagnosis of special needs. We can then address the thorny problem of statementing a child of that age.
I want the statementing process to be speeded up. I want to see "easy win" assessments being carried out within days of referral. The whole pre-school sector should be given the same support and opportunity to help children with special needs in their care.
Another constituency case, which hopefully will have been resolved today involves a girl at the other end of the age spectrum. At 16, she has been in a special school for children with multiple learning difficulties. Had she been born a year earlier the careers service would have led her into a full-time residential place in further education. Had she been born a year later, the Learning and Skills Council would have placed her in full-time residential education. This year, however, it appears that the careers service is pulling back from its former role and the Learning and Skills Council is not yet up and running. Parents have been left facing weeks and weeks of uncertainty about what is happening to their l6-year-olds with severe learning difficulties. Those children will go to a new school in September, but parents need a reliable framework to assist them in meeting their children's needs and in exercising the choice that we have all said we want the Bill to preserve. I am sure that it will do so.
There are excellent initiatives in special needs education. Many of us attended a fringe event at last year's Labour party conference where we were privileged to have conversations with young people with special needs. That might not sound unusual in itself, but they were young people with whom I could not previously have had a conversation. They were using the latest speech synthesis technology, which is very expensive. By using synthetic speech, those children, who have very little muscular control and no speech, were able to have bright, engaging and intelligent conversations. That was an example of how technology can come to the aid of children with severe communication difficulties. It was a tremendous evening children were liberated and I and others were educated
The Bill is a milestone. It finally recognises the needs and entitlements of children and adults to access appropriate education. Nothing more needs to be said about it and I commend it to the House.
I appreciate having the opportunity to contribute to this debate.
Undoubtedly, children with all manner of special needs and disabilities are able to be integrated in mainstream education. I visited every school and college in my constituency. I went to see the work that Godalming sixth-form college is doing. At Badshot Lee and Broadwater, I saw the special units for children with various disabilities. Much can now be done in mainstream education and with new, technology, and I endorse the point that training and investment in information and communications technology is enormously important in enabling more children to release their potential. I remember our excitement in the Department of Health when cochlear implants were going to be made available on the NHS. Young people with all manner of physical disabilities can be released from the constraints under which they have lived, and lead full lives as active citizens.
It is not, however, my view that the mantra of social inclusion is necessarily always the right one in education for children with special needs. I say that having worked for many years—when I had a proper job before entering Parliament—in a child guidance unit, having been the chairman of a magistrates court, and having worked at some of the special residential schools that the then Inner London education authority set up amid great grandeur all over the home counties.
Many young people need special assessment and special provision, and coercive social inclusion is counter-productive. I do not dispute the degree to which having a fellow pupil with a disability reduces the fear, ignorance and stigma shown by the other, able-bodied members of the class, but I do dispute the idea that all children should be forced into this socially inclusive pattern.
I was interested in the comments made by Professor Peter Farrell, the professor of special needs and educational psychology at the university of Manchester. He said:
Social inclusion, as equal members of society, is something that most people would support. But this is not necessarily the same thing as educational inclusion. For very disabled kids"—
I do not like the word "kids"; it is patronising, but be that as it may—
with minimal communication skills and demanding physical needs, some degree of separation may be more appropriate—even a precondition for social integration.
Badshot Lee primary school has a wonderful facility for children with severe physical disabilities. A young man, Igor, to whom I am particularly attached, suffered grievously in the Chernobyl disaster. He lives in my area. He is very small because he lost a number of his limbs. Until the age of 11, he was comfortable at Badshot Lee. However, at 11, he wanted to go to a special school because he felt vulnerable and unusual, as adolescents do. Adolescents with severe physical disabilities may feel even more so. There is not one answer, but coercive social inclusion is wrong. Igor wanted to go to the Lord Mayor Treloar college, and had great difficulty achieving his objective.
I am particularly persuaded by Melanie Phillips, who recently warned of teachers being left
to flounder with pupils whose very disruptive behaviour still spells chaos in the classroom … for the majority of heads and teachers, the problems of incorporating severely disruptive children are overwhelming.
My special concern is with children with mental health problems. I am disappointed that they have had so little mention in this debate. That is extraordinary. I particularly applaud the work of Young Minds, led by Peter Wilson. He is having the greatest difficulty in securing funding. Despite all the talk of joined-up government—the words never match the reality with this Government—he cannot get adequate funding to provide the mental health services necessary for so many young people
Fearing that I was not going to catch your eye for a long time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I briefly visited, for sustenance and information, the launch of the manifesto card of the NSPCC, the Child Poverty Action Group—my first employer—and Barnardos. In the material that they have produced, they make it clear that one in five children and adolescents suffer from some form of mental health problem. One of their campaigns, which I applaud, is that
independent counselling schemes in all schools to provide emotional support for all children who need it
should be available. That is a tall order, but it is not my view that every child benefits from being forced to stay in the mainstream.
I wish that we had heard more from Ministers about what they are doing to co-operate with health providers, social services and the criminal justice system to ensure that those young people who often end up in the sheriff court—as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) said—and the juvenile court, as I would have called it, receive the help that they need when they need it. So often with the goal of social inclusion, problems are delayed until a child is really suffering and falling out of the system, and until the teachers and parents are desperate. The great idea that social inclusion is the objective and that special education is somehow a failure or a lesser option is, in my view, misguided and misjudged.
I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) had the right of it when she said that children's needs should be given priority. I am sceptical about the mantra of children's rights. Children have a right to be cared for and a right to be heard, but the concept of children's rights is not a wise one because so many children need control, care, support and containment. When hon. Members talk about the disability rights legislation applying the same language and understanding to children as to adults, they misunderstand the nature of childhood.
I strongly support the work done by my noble colleagues in another place, when they talked about the best interests of the child. I spent many years working on children's legislation, including the Children Act 1989, and I believe that to fail to give children the support and care they need is a great error. Children are not adults with adult status, and we fail them instead of serving them if we fail to understand that.
It has been said by a number of my colleagues that there is a role for special schools. I support the comments made by Doug McAvoy, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. Goodness, I remember him coming in long ago, when I worked for Chris Patten at the Department of Education. I did not feel, then, that I had many points of agreement with Mr. McAvoy, but I agree with him when he says:
There is a continuing role for special schools, not least as centres of expertise and as resource centres, as well as providing for each young person's special needs.
If hon. Members came to the Abbey school or the Ridgeway school in my constituency—one is for young people with mild learning disabilities, the other for those with severe learning disabilities—they would see how young people can gain status, have leadership roles and be celebrated at prize-givings and other events for their success and their status. Those opportunities are, with the best will in the world, hard to achieve in the mainstream.
I am also concerned about the role of residential provision. I return to the issue of co-operation over funding. I was deeply influenced by the late Lady Faithfull, who was for many years instrumental in the all-party parliamentary group on children, and also in the Caldecott community. The difficulty of securing funding for residential places continues to be as problematic today as ever.
I ask the Minister to comment on what steps are being taken to achieve co-operation between social service departments, health departments and education departments. It was ever thus that the children who need residential provision often have not only educational needs but social needs. Children with special educational needs come not with one label, but, increasingly, with multiple labels. There is a degree of buck-passing and cost-shunting between agencies in relation to who will fund the provision. There will be few hon. Members who have not had experience of parents desperate for their children to receive a place, but somehow the agencies could not resolve the problems until, all too often, the criminal justice system has to pick up the bill.
I am also worried about the degree to which residential provision, which probably used to be excessive, is under threat. The reasons for a placement are rarely purely educational; almost always social factors are behind it. When we read of the effect of having a severely handicapped child—marital breakdown and family pressure—it is scarcely surprising that social factors combine with educational needs.
I share the profound concerns, represented widely in my constituency, about the potentially adverse effects of the Bill on the independent sector. It is hard to explain, but there is a huge demand, certainly in my area, for placements in the independent sector. There are a number of not-for-profit denominational independent establishments in my constituency which have prestige and cachet. Parents who are coming to terms with their child's disability may believe that if the child can be placed in one of those independent establishments, the school will provide added value. I understand that parents can find valuable the additional contribution that the faith community often provides in those circumstances; I would feel that myself.
My worry is the degree to which the independent sector will be discriminated against in a needless and serious manner. In my area, St. Dominic's school and More house have both provided remarkable care, education and encouragement for many decades, and have given self-esteem to youngsters who were failing to thrive and flourish in the mainstream.
I very much hope that the Government will re-examine the matter and accept the view of the Opposition that choice for parents is important, especially when people are coming to terms with their children's difficulties. All parents want their children to overcome obstacles and be free from difficulty; having a choice can make a huge difference to their accepting the outcome. I hope that the Government will recognise in statute that the best interests of the child should have priority.
I hope that the Government will look again at joined-up government. I am sure that other hon. Members have received letters of anguish from advisory and support services for children and the family court on the Lord Chancellor's proposals for self-employed guardians ad litem. Guardians ad litem do much to ensure that children in the looked-after sector realise their potential and achieve all that they can, given their resources and their adverse circumstances. In the interests of joined-up government, I am sure that the Department will want to talk to the Department of Health, social services, those dealing with criminal justice matters and the Lord Chancellor's Department.
I am sure that many hon. Members have read Lord Renton's comments in another place. He described his daughter, who has severe learning and physical disabilities, and said:
Having children with learning difficulties in mainstream schools causes serious problems. The first is that the children become more conscious of their mental handicap, which gives them an inferiority complex. Alas, sometimes they are bullied and often they are treated with casual contempt by normal pupils and even by teachers.
Lord Renton continued:
Integration into mainstream schools often means disruption and delays in the classroom detrimental to the normal pupils."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 February 2001; Vol. 622. c. 616–17.]
I hope for a more optimistic view of the vast majority of children with special educational needs. This country has made progress in the past two or three decades; one only has to go overseas and see the special educational provisions in many other countries to realise that the House is right to be proud of that progress. I hope that the Government will not get so carried away with their own rhetoric that they fail to understand that individual children, their assessment and best needs should be their guiding light.
Following the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley), it comes as a surprise to realise that I agree with much of what she and many Opposition Members have said. My surprise is that we reach different conclusions from our shared experience and attitudes. Certainly the view that children ought to be the centre of policy should be shared by Members on both sides of the House. I am therefore surprised that Opposition Members conclude that the Bill should be opposed, while Labour Members conclude that, where change is needed, it should be sought and made.
I wish to draw the attention of the House to two constituency issues. The first is the review of special educational needs provision in my area in Kirklees education authority; the second is my personal interest in ADHD—attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—which is little understood and needs closer examination.
In my own area. about a year ago, the education authority felt, with good reason, that special educational needs provision needed to be reviewed and changed. Some schools in the neighbouring constituency of Huddersfield—my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) spoke earlier about local education—do not offer good provision. Some of their buildings are not the best; ideally, we would not children to be in them, as they are not comfortable. Some schools are far removed from communities and, for certain pupils, travel is difficult. Change in provision was therefore not necessarily a bad idea. However, to assume that the outcome of the Bill will he identical to the first paper read by members of the education authority is not necessarily the best thing to do. The fact that those LEA members based some of their consultation on the Education Act 1996, which dealt with another matter, also changed the focus of what could have been a good review into something that caused suspicion.
Some of that suspicion has been voiced in the House today and rests on the fact that, when we look at special educational needs, we are really talking about taking places out of the current system and making a single overall change by saying that all children with needs should be included in mainstream education. However, there is nothing in the Bill to suggest that. I share the view of the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey that children vary so much that we have to look at a range of provision. If, after long consultation, we do not do that in Kirklees, I would be extremely disappointed.
The Government have just announced a grant of more than £16 million towards the change in education provision in Kirklees, yet still the consultation goes on, as it must because parents also need to be listened to during the process of change which, after all, affects their children. The voices of children are rarely heard directly. We often listen to their parents, but perhaps we need to spend a little time listening to children when discussing inclusion. Children often tell me, "I do not want a statement. I do not want people to think of me as different. I do not want the people who I mix with in the youth club or football club to say that I am different and not in class with them."
Often, children themselves have a different view of what their statement should be about, especially as they get older and articulate their own needs. The Bill includes a great deal that will allow us to tell parents and children that everyone should be encompassed in the process of change. All of our views should be taken into account.
The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) made some interesting points about resourcing, with which there are problems. Resourcing is not always just about money. I have encountered a big problem when looking at assessments of need—we do not have enough educational psychologists to do that work. They are in short supply not simply because we cannot afford them, but because they have not been trained and are unavailable. That obviously slows the process down. We should be examining such issues in detail, not putting up a straightforward barrier and saying that, as a matter of principle, we oppose the Bill. We should be working together to find solutions.
In Kirklees, we decided that there should be an all-party statement declaring that the issue was non-political, and that we would all work together to find out what was in the best interests of children. I pay tribute to the chair of the education authority, John Smithson, who is a Liberal Democrat councillor. I am not ashamed to congratulate him. When it was drawn to his attention that parents were uneasy about the change that the authority was making, he listened. Listening is at the heart of everything that has happened.
I went to see Ministers, and the Under—Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith) who has just left the Chamber, met parents and explained carefully her view of what should be done for children who had been statemented and the range of provision that should be available. She made it clear to those parents that, for some children, inclusion in mainstream schooling is desirable, but that such inclusion is not necessarily desirable for all children. For some children, a temporary period in some form of provision may be a solution—perhaps a period of catching up, a period of adjustment or a period of being supported. For some children, a permanent statement of needs will be required. For some, a specific range of equipment or a style of teaching may be the solution.
Much has been said today about the ways in which we can deal with problems, but we have not heard much about styles of teaching. Some children, particularly those with mild learning difficulties, benefit a great deal from being taught in a slightly different way. I am thinking especially of children with dyslexia, who could stay in the mainstream, with the right support—possibly technical equipment such as a laptop in the classroom or, for very young children, learning to draw with a finger in sand. Such a solution gives them a multi-sensory experience that helps them to learn.
We need to consider a range of different ways in which children can be taught. Learning to write with a finger in sand is not the most expensive way in which education can be delivered, so money is not always the issue. We need to use our collective resources and our imagination to find out what is best for each child. I do not want a one-size-fits-all education system, and that is not proposed in the Bill.
A one-size-fits-all education system would certainly not help children who suffer from ADHD. The condition is hugely misunderstood and has a wide range of effects on children. It has a huge effect on almost all the families of those children. Some children with a mild form of ADHD present almost no problems at all. Parents are often told that the problem is simply bad parenting, and that if they took control, their children would be better behaved.
A multidisciplinary approach is needed. The children whom I have met with their parents display such a wide range of problems that labelling those children as hyperactive, naughty, disruptive, behaviourally poor or not paying attention in class does nothing for them, and does not recognise the stress and strains that the condition causes for families. We must find out how early we can identify needs. That applies to almost all special needs, but particularly to children with ADHD.
Sometimes a doctor identifies the problem. With MRI scanning, the effect on the brain can be identified quite early. However, I recently met a young man who is about to go into secondary education. He was diagnosed as suffering from ADHD and is being treated with ritalin, but has not had a statement of needs of any kind. Because he can reach a certain level of attainment in his classroom, the rest of his needs are being ignored. Teachers say that he is coping, but he can do better than coping.
Parents of such a child say that they struggle to pay for extra tuition in the evening, work hard with the child with his homework, and that the family is crumbling under the strain of trying to cope with the child educationally. None of that is taken into account under the current system. That must change. The Bill should not allow children to carry on coping, when they could be achieving. It should maximise the potential of everyone.
Those are views that I have heard from Opposition Members, so I am surprised that we cannot find some agreement and some way of co-operating to take the matter forward. No one claims that the Bill is the be-all and end-all—the end of the process of dealing with special educational needs. That would be a disappointment, because it should be a devolving process that includes everyone, not least the children and the parents. If we refuse to give the Bill a Second Reading because there are flaws in it, and because it does not go far enough, that sends out a strange message to my constituents, who have grave concerns about children who are still waiting for their statements.
Will we deny those children the resources that they need? We can argue quite properly about whether the resources are sufficient and whether they are being spent in the right way, but let us not argue that nothing should be done. That would be a bizarre response to the moving stories that we heard today about children's specific needs. I am thinking especially of the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), who is not in his place. I was moved to learn that children in Tewkesbury are suffering as he described, and that Gloucestershire council has not been able to respond to their needs. I hope that Kirklees council is listening carefully to the debate and learning from it.
When we go out and listen to parents, we will hear some who say that their children have had a good experience at school. Those parents will ask us to ensure that the special needs school is not closed, but adapted and made more useful. Can we find a better way for pupils in such a school to link with mainstream education? Perhaps we can create a better path through education. The school that I have in mind is Lydgate school, which has good links with both primary and secondary schools and with further education. We could do even more. That school could serve as a model for special needs education and links with mainstream education and with the community.
The solution does not have to be the closure of existing schools and the building of new ones. One solution might be to adapt existing schools. Less successful schools that cannot deliver the sort of education that we want may have to be replaced with new schools. I hope that both solutions will be available in Kirklees, and that we will listen to both sets of parents—those who say that we need a new school and those who want to keep the schools that we have. It is possible to compromise and find solutions to suit everybody. Councillor Smithson has taken that approach, and I commend him for it. I commend also the parents who have fought so hard to keep the education that is appropriate for their children.
The Bill is about finding the appropriate response to the needs of children and parents. It should not be about a cash reduction in spending, which is what some people think that we mean when we speak about reducing places. It is mischievous and misguided to lead people into believing that that is what the Bill is about or to suggest that it ensures that no children will have their special educational needs met in a specialist sector. The multidisciplinary approach that I believe to be necessary for children such as those with ADHD requires links with the health authority, social services and housing providers, as well as with education.
For children with ADHD in my constituency, I want to give credit to the National Children's Centre, which is located in Huddersfield, to Huddersfield university and to doctors at St. Luke's hospital. They have all been working with the council to produce an integrated approach for the needs of children with ADHD. I agree with Opposition Members that people do not have special needs only while they are in school, at home or out in the community. People's special needs encompass their whole lives, which is why an integrated, all-encompassing approach seems the right one to adopt. I believe that the Bill sets us well along the way to achieving that target.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford) on a contribution that was obviously well informed. Clearly, she takes a keen personal interest in the matter. For my part, I should like to declare an interest, as I am married to a teacher who teaches children with severe learning difficulties. Whenever I am at home, the joy, achievement and frustrations of the Pear Tree school at Kirkham, about which I shall say more in a moment, fill our house. On Sunday, we had the pleasure of looking after one of the school's pupils who came home after a school concert in the outskirts of Preston which was attended by teachers. It was a joy to see what the school had done for that young man.
Labour Members have made many critical remarks about the amendment. The title of the Bill states that it is intended
to make further provision against discrimination, on grounds of disability, in schools and other educational establishments; and for connected purposes.
I have not heard my hon. Friends say anything to make me believe that we do not support the principal purpose of the Bill. In another place, Baroness Blackstone said:
All children have a right to an appropriate education that affords them the opportunity to achieve their personal potential.
She went on to say that
where parents want more specialist provision, their wishes should be listened to."—[0ffical Report, House of Lords, 19 December 2000; Vol. 620, c. 635.]
Those words seem entirely compatible with our amendment, which states that we want the Bill to contain provision to:
explicitly give priorit3 to the special educational needs of the child".
Nobody disagrees with this aim or has suggested that it should not be our principal objective. However, as the amendment points out, the Bill
contains no mechanism for safeguarding a viable choice for parents between types of school
The reason that Opposition Members have criticised the Bill was reflected in the comments of hon. Members who pointed out that the philosophy that underpins the changes in special education such as the move towards a more inclusive regime, has caused much concern and worry among people with good experience of special schools. The hon. Member for Colne Valley spoke about the review that is being conducted by her local authority. A similar review is occurring in Lancashire, where there is considerable anxiety about the threat that it carries with it. I believe that one London authority has already eliminated all its special schools—
If the Bill were not given a Second Reading, we would be the Government. We would not have introduced a Bill containing such treasures in the first place. The hon. Gentleman has a selective memory. I seem to remember that the previous, Labour Opposition often tabled amendments to good Bills. That is the only mechanism that Her Majesty's Opposition can use to register a point of principle about a Bill. He shakes his head. I am sorry if my comments are inconvenient to his argument, but I reiterate that we are simply registering a point of principled disagreement about an aspect of the Bill and are not objecting to Second Reading itself.
My right hon. Friend may recall that we also tabled a reasoned amendment on Second Reading of the Learning and Skills Bill—the Act of 2000—which was also introduced in the other place. Although I make no presumption as to our actions after this evening, I remind the House that we did not vote against that Bill on Third Reading: we abstained. We had reservations, we expressed those reservations and, to some extent, they were met.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. To conclude my remarks to the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), were we lucky enough to win the vote and were the Government to remain as committed to the Bill as they say they are, they would reintroduce it in a modified form that we could all support. No doubt the thesis behind our amendment will be discussed in Committee, but to try to label us as being against making further progress is wrong. [Interuption.] The hon. Member for Kingswood should not laugh at us, because some of us speak with passion and a degree of understanding of the subject, just as he did. We want to protect both the interests of the children and some remarkable educational establishments.
I put on record my appreciation of all teachers, particularly those in special schools. They not only deal with the nice side—the happy, smiling children at the Christmas concert—but clean up after an incontinent child, administer the valium when a child has a fit, and deal with the child who may have a violent outburst through no fault of his own. Such teachers are dedicated and sometimes their role can easily be forgotten as we take a broad-brush approach to these matters.
Teachers are ably assisted by many others from the health services. Certain provisions will create a need for more assistance from a further army of occupational therapists, speech therapists, physiotherapists and educational psychologists. All are in short supply, but that point was not dealt with by the Secretary of State.
May I take the House on a brief trip to Pear Tree school? I want to paint a picture by using not my words, but those in a recent Ofsted inspection report. Pear Tree is an all-age community school with 61 pupils on the roll, and Ofsted observed:
Pupils love coming to school. A high proportion of lessons are simply inspirational".
How often does Ofsted describe a school as inspirational? The word "excellent" is used 18 times in the report, and only one lesson out of 72 observed was anything other than satisfactory. That is a tremendous testament to Mrs. Jean Cook, the head teacher, and her staff, in terms of what the school can achieve.
Parents speak about the school in remarkably glowing terms and Ofsted said that the leadership and management are excellent, that the teaching
is often excellent and very good overall",
and that inclusion for pupils is very good. The school is complimented on its efforts to ensure that a
growing number of pupils are successfully engaged in integration activities in primary schools and opportunities for pupils from other schools to work alongside Pear Tree pupils in their own school are regularly and successfully made.
That is what a centre of real excellence in the world of special education can deliver, but hon. Members should consider how Lancashire's review of special educational needs is being conducted. The council
intends to maintain a vibrant special school sector within its overall policy of inclusion.
In the world of special schools, however, a growing paralysis is setting in. People are uncertain as to what will happen. The review has been inspired by the consultative exercise and, indeed, by the Bill. There is a great need to try to remove some of that uncertainty.
There may be an argument for special schools in Lancashire to be re-examined, but I am worried by the apparent assumption that more and more pupils will move to the mainstream, to the extent that many special schools such as Pear Tree might not be viable and there will be no choice for parents when they have to make up their minds about what is best for their children. When parents show their passionate support for Pear Tree school, as adjudged by their comments to Ofsted, they are speaking on behalf of the consumers of education—sadly, some of their children cannot articulate their feelings themselves. Those parents know the tremendous contribution that Pear Tree can make.
What worries me about the Bill is the provision on guidance to parents to enable them to make up their minds about what is right for their child. Will the Minister comment more specifically on clause 2, which refers to local education authorities making arrangements to provide parents with information on SEN matters? Who will provide sufficiently dispassionate advice to enable parents to make their minds up?
Parents are not a homogeneous commodity. Some of the parents whom I have had the pleasure of dealing with at Pear Tree are articulate, well resourced and remarkable people, and will fight to the last for what is right for their child. Some children come from fractured homes where there may be only one parent and the child does not always get the attention that he or she deserves because there are many siblings and the family does not have the resources. Who will explain the arguments in an understandable and dispassionate way so that a proper choice can be made? There needs to be a debate so that we can avoid any stigmatisation, but we must also ensure that the right advice is given to the parents of a child with special educational needs so that a proper choice can be made to meet that child's needs.
I have listened carefully to the passionate and cogent argument that the right hon. Gentleman has put. How is it compatible with the policy of members of his Front-Bench team—of getting rid of local education authorities and taking away that plank of advocacy which has hitherto been the central role of the LEA on behalf of the very children to whom he has rightly referred?
As the hon. Gentleman may have observed, there is more than one source of advice. The Government point to the role of the voluntary sector as a possible source of help. We are debating the Bill in the context of the present arrangements, to which my remarks are directed.
There is an omission in the Bill. What has saddened me more than anything is the fact that, after hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of effort has been put into enabling children to come out of Pear Tree with every possible resource at their disposal to enhance their further living, they then face a real problem that is not dealt with by the Bill—it does not say what is supposed to happen next.
I have known many cases of children who have found it difficult to go into training, employment or, more importantly, the specialist institutions that provide further training, nurture, succour, education and comfort for the children who come from Pear Tree school. One faces an enormous battle to give those children the opportunity to derive benefit from the investment that has been made in them by the Pear Tree schools of this world. Lancashire county council often fights against providing resources for those children. If they do not get those resources, all our efforts to improve special education, whether in mainstream or special schools, will be wasted.
The university sector has not so far been covered in the debate. I received from the university of Lancaster a copy of the minutes of a meeting of its court held on 10 February. It was supportive of the Bill, but said that it could be improved by
including a definition of disability which adequately covers all those with an impairment which may affect their education. For example, a student with dyslexia may be able to concentrate for a short period of time but will need modifications when taking a three-hour exam".
I should be grateful for the Minister's assurance that Lancaster university, as well as others, will be contacted, so we can be sure that its observations on the way these powers can be strengthened further will be taken fully into account.
Many of us speak passionately and with some knowledge about special education. The most important thing is to keep the child at the centre of our arguments; but I hope that the Bill will not lead to a lessening of choice or to any diminution of the resources devoted to caring for the many children who find it difficult to give us their own views, and for whom we therefore have a huge responsibility.
The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) indeed spoke with passion. He also spoke with great eloquence, and with first-hand knowledge of the issues. Let me simply say this to the right hon. Gentleman. if the Opposition support the principle of the Bill—as they have said they do—and if they also feel that the Bill needs further amendment, they should surely vote for it on Second Reading, try to amend it in Committee and, if they fail to amend it satisfactorily at that stage, decide whether to vote for Third Reading.
It strikes me as foolish for the Opposition to break the all-party consensus that has been built up, not just in both Houses but among all the organisations that have worked together on the Bill. I ask them to reconsider, even at this eleventh hour. By all means let them fight for their amendments in Committee, and then make a decision on Third Reading, but I urge them not to divide the House tonight.
I agree with many members of other parties who have spoken about the importance of special schools. I support such schools. There are many excellent special schools in my constituency; a number of my constituents attend them, are flourishing, and would flourish only in those schools. Nothing in the Bill undermines special schools, but the Opposition amendment would undermine them. Some local education authorities would undoubtedly use it as a cop-out. It would enable them to keep children out of mainstream schools when it was inconvenient for children to be in such schools because the authorities had not made sufficient provision. It would also enable some LEAs not to put children into special schools when that was their parents' wish, because they could not provide the necessary places and wanted to force the children into mainstream schools. If the Opposition are serious about supporting special schools—and I accept that they are, for very good reasons—I ask them to think carefully about their amendment.
We need to continue the dialogue about the Bill. One of the most powerful aspects of its progress is the fact that it has developed as far as it has as a result of dialogue. The Government were accused earlier of not listening, and of not being prepared to accept amendments. In whatever other contexts that n may or may not be true, it is not true in the context of this Bill, which has been improved considerably in the House of Lords. The Government have listened, and the Secretary of State said earlier that he was prepared to go on listening if we continued the dialogue.
I am chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on autism. I would not presume to speak for the group tonight, but my experience of working with it, the people whom I have met and the organisations with which I have been able to discuss the issues have given me some ideas. Before relaying the concerns of autistic people and the organisations that look after them, however, I want to tell the House a story about a child with special needs—not autistic—whom I encountered about three weeks ago, when visiting a mainstream primary school in my constituency. It was one of those mainstream primary schools that were built about 30 years ago. I shall not name it, because the individual concerned might then be identifiable, and the privacy of that person should be respected. The school is in a dreadful state and essentially needs to be replaced. I was visiting to see the damage that had been done to it recently and to talk to the head teacher about the campaign to renew it.
Inside the school hall, there was a little girl who looked very much like my own daughter. She was about six years old and had long, curly hair. She was jumping on a trampoline with the help of a learning assistant, who was holding her hand. The little girl was counting each time she jumped, and, every time she reached the number five, she would fling herself high into the air. She was laughing as she jumped, and her laughter was absolutely infectious and filled the hall.
I continued my tour with the head teacher. When I returned to the hall, the little girl was running across it, still laughing and giggling. She would run back and forth and the learning assistant would catch her and then set her free again. As she ran past me, I realised that she had no eyes.
That little girl is in a mainstream school. I suspect that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is the only hon. Member who knows how much guts it must take for that six-year-old to run across a hall with no one there to guide her and no idea of what is in the hall. My right hon. Friend is probably the only hon. Member who has experienced anything remotely like that.
That little girl has so much guts that, if we give her the support she needs, she could achieve anything. As I said, she is being supported in a mainstream primary school, where she is able to fulfil herself. At some point, however, she will have to make the transition to a secondary school. After that, she will have to make the transition to a sixth form, and then to higher education. Each of those transitions could be a huge obstacle for her, but I believe that she can do anything. We have to give her that chance. It is up to us—the House, her local education authority, her parents and her teachers—to give her that chance.
A few weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was reported in the newspapers as saying that he did not think he would ever be Prime Minister because the country was not ready for a blind Prime Minister. I disagree with him. I think that. when the present incumbent decides to give up the post, my right hon. Friend is one of several senior Ministers who would make an excellent Prime Minister.
I also believe that, if we give that little girl the support that she needs throughout her life, if that is the type of course that she decides to pursue, she, too, could make the transition—but only if, throughout her life, she has access to the type of education that is right for her. That is why we have to clear away obstacles and ensure that every mainstream school and every college is available to little girls like her.
The Bill identifies the need to remove obstacles. It says that the parents choice will be paramount. An additional caveat has also been included in the Bill—on the efficiency of education for other children. I admit that, if I had a magic wand, I would wave it and remove that caveat. The only caveat that I would leave in the Bill is the one concerning the primacy of parents" wishes.
Someone has to speak on behalf of the child. If we include caveats such as that proposed by the Opposition, on the particular needs of the child, the parents wishes will no longer be paramount and someone else will have to judge the weight to give to each caveat. The parents wishes will have to be subordinated to the judgment of another authority. Parents wishes are not perfect and some will need a lot of guidance to make choices. However, parents are the best hope we have because they know their children best.
The Bill is going in the right direction, and I hope that the Opposition will come to understands that. The Special Educational Consortium understands that. It says:
The Consortium believes that proposals contained in this Bill will dramatically improve the quality of education available for disabled pupils".
Many other organisations have a similar view; my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) quoted many of them. The National Autistic Society certainly has that view, and the society and the Special Educational
Consortium want the Bill and seek no further amendment to it. They believe that the Bill can have a dramatic effect on the people whom they represent.
The Bill will be important for autistic people because of the duty to provide a mainstream place. Many people have quoted examples of how a mainstream place can be important. The National Autistic Society has identified a girl of average ability with autism who was excluded from mainstream primary schools because the teachers said that her problems were too great. Yet a secondary school was prepared to help her, with a dedicated team that was prepared to look after her needs. She made a great transition to that secondary mainstream school, and has now independently gone on to art college. That shows that we sometimes close our eyes to the possibility of what can be achieved in mainstream schools.
The duty to plan is regarded by the National Autistic Society as a vital amendment in relation to children with autistic spectrum disorders. Two specific areas of planning that need to be considered are transition and staff training. The transition of a child between different schools is vital, and a child who is flourishing in one school must be allowed the opportunity to flourish in the next school.
One example of good practice is Blackpool local education authority, where school support assistants are trained to make transition plans for pupils. An example from the authority is that of an autistic boy who was identified as needing to use public transport to get to his secondary school. The school support assistants made plans to introduce him to public transport and make sure that he could use it to make the transition.
On staff training, an example of which 1 am aware is that of a little girl who was in a mainstream primary school. She was starting to become disruptive when all the children were sitting around for story-telling and reading. The reason, it was worked out, was that because the child was autistic, she needed a fixed place in the circle. Because she was not given a fixed place, she became uncomfortable and disruptive. The staff realised what was going on and put a red carpet tile down, explaining to her that whenever the class was sitting in a circle, she would sit on the red carpet tile. After that, there was no more trouble from her because she had her place and understood what was necessary. That sort of staff training is vital if we are to introduce autistic children into mainstream schools.
We have to look at teaching strategies. Classes must have visual structures and a clarity of purpose. The objectives of the lesson must be set out so that autistic children can understand them. They will then learn much better and feel more comfortable.
If we are going to plan, we must understand how many people we are planning for. So far as autism is concerned, we still have no real idea. The Government have started to recognise the need to work out how many autistic children there are, but we need to speed up that process. A few decades ago, it was assumed that only four people in 10,000 were autistic. In the 1970s, that figure was raised by studies that suggested that 20 people in 10,000 were autistic. By 1993, the estimate was 71 in 10,000, and the National Autistic Society currently estimates that 91 people in 10,000 are autistic. Recent studies suggest that one person in 175 is autistic.
Moreover, there has been an increase in the number of pupils who are now considered to be autistic, and perhaps one in eight pupils with a special need are now thought to be autistic. That matter must be addressed, or planning will be impossible.
Early years education for autistic children must also be looked at. If children up to the age of two can be identified as autistic, we can start giving them intensive help, with the result that they will do very much better in later life. However, we must be able to identify such children and to ensure that early years education is available for them. The people who help in the schools must also be able to employ the techniques needed to identify autistic people.
As has been said, the Bill is a milestone. It will dramatically improve the lives of autistic children and make a huge difference to children of all disabilities. At this eleventh hour, I appeal to the Opposition not to break the huge consensus that has built up in support of the Bill. I urge them to step back from the position that they have adopted, and think again.
I hope that the Opposition will work with the Government in Committee to try and get the amendments that they want into the Bill. However, the important thing is that we all carry on working together to deliver what is a vital measure for disabled people.
I rise to support the reasoned amendment tabled in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I do so because I am anxious about certain parts of the Bill—my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) gave a fair account of the problems involved.
All hon. Members are united in our desire to give all our children the best possible opportunity, regardless of whether they are disabled or have learning difficulties. It is interesting to reflect on how legislation is first brought to the House. Does it come as a result of the work of pressure groups, or is it based on the advice of civil servants? Does it derive from the experiences of individual Members of Parliament? Some hon. Members are disabled, and many had special learning difficulties when they were children. When I was a small child, I had to go to a speech therapist for three years, reciting the phrase "how now, brown cow" and so on. I am very grateful for the help that I received, and not at all ashamed.
It is on the record—and I am sure that the Minister will accept this—that the Secretary of State did not entirely enjoy his experience at school. My brother-in-law is blind, and my wife's sister has very little sight. They are about the same age as the Secretary of State, and went to a school similar to the one that he attended. However, their experiences are different from his. He has all the power, and they have no power at all.
I want to share with the House the practical effects of the Bill. When my noble Friends Lady Blatch and Lord Baker spoke in the other place, they were very concerned about how the Bill would be funded. Lord Baker thought that the costs would be astronomical in educational terms, and felt that the Government had not estimated the financial consequences of what they were doing. The care in the community policy was very expensive, as the House knows, and I believe that the Bill will also turn out to be very expensive.
At the start of the debate, hon. Members asked whether anyone could point to an organisation that was not in favour of the Bill. Given that other hon. Members wish to speak, I shall not spend time on that point, but there are any number of organisations—
I will not give way, as that would be unfair to other hon. Members. I want to tell the House that there are organisations that have expressed concerns about the Bill, among them the Royal National Institute for Deaf People. The letter from the National Association of Head Teachers, which has been referred to, shows that that association, too, has reservations, which it outlines.
I want to share with the House what has happened in Southend. The Liberal-Labour council, driven by the Government's intention to develop their policy of inclusion, decided to consult. The council's proposals have upset parents and children alike. I went round all the schools, and not one parent wrote saying "David, for goodness' sake, we must close these special schools and put the children into mainstream schools."
My constituency has magnificent schools, including Lancaster, Kingsdown, St. Christopher, Fairways special needs unit and Priory school, which, along with the school mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde, also received a magnificent Ofsted report. In the neighbouring constituency we have St. Nicholas school. I pay tribute to all the teachers for the magnificent job that they do.
The chairman of the education committee. Councillor Mrs. Sally Can, said to me that this was a fine policy, but did the Government realise that, perhaps uniquely, there was a teacher crisis in Southend? We do not have the number of teachers that we need in our secondary and junior schools. One need only look at The Times Educational Supplement, which advertises a huge number of vacancies, to realise that there is a dire shortage of teachers. Is it any wonder, considering the Government's policy outlined in circular 10/99? There are three cases in Essex of children who have been caught with drugs on school premises. Government circular 10/99 has enabled the parents to appeal against the exclusion of such pupils. The Government's policy is that if children bring drugs into school their parents can appeal against their expulsion and they can be taken back. Children can be permanently excluded only if they are actually selling drugs on school premises.
That has obviously undermined a number of head teachers, who have quite rightly expelled children caught with drugs on school premises. However, as a result of Government circular 10/99, whose potential consequences the Government presumably fully understood when they issued it, the good reputation of those heads has been completely undermined
I spoke this afternoon to Mr. Peter Brown from Essex Mencap about the Bill. He said that everyone welcomes inclusion in so far as it means assisting people with learning disabilities to access community facilities where it is their wish to do so. Those are not my words; they are the words of Mr. Peter Brown, who also said that although politically correct thinking says that the learning disabled should use community facilities, in fact in many cases they prefer to associate with people who are also learning disabled. Mr. Brown drew an analogy: people want to play tennis with others on their level, not necessarily with professionals. Mr. Brown said that of course Mencap was against discrimination and that it was not against the learning disabled having access to community facilities. However, he was wary of the danger of pushing people with learning disabilities to do something that they were not necessarily comfortable with for the sake of political correctness.
The head teacher of one of our excellent special schools said that if we are to begin the process of inclusion, we must ensure that mainstream schools have the right resources and staff to provide services.
I presume that Labour Members are putting it around that the Conservative party is opposed to helping children with learning difficulties and disabled children. However, we all know that that is not so. As parliamentarians, we want to be party to good, sensible legislation, so we should scrutinise measures.
I salute all those teachers who are working so hard. We have a tremendous teacher shortage at present. It is all very well for the Government to say that this Bill is wonderful and that it will help all our children, but it will fail if it is not carefully thought through and if we do not have the resources to back it up.
Like many Members, I welcome the Bill. I, too, have received a large number of representations from organisations in Scotland; they also welcome the Bill and hope that it will pass speedily through this place so that it can be enacted before a general election comes along.
I have always felt strongly about the subject of the Bill—it is very dear to my heart. Apart from my first four and a half years and the past four years since my election to this place, I have spent all my life in education. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) is not in his place—although perhaps I am glad. Earlier, he was jumping up and down heckling my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
I spent a long time in education not because I was a slow learner, but because I became a teacher. I felt passionately about that. However, I almost did not become a teacher, because in 1973, when I applied to the college of education in Aberdeen, I was told that I could not go there. Why? Because I had an encroaching disability, and people with disabilities could not be teachers. I suffered discrimination.
Had my disability been slightly more advanced while I was at school, I might not have been able to attend a spanking new school in 1970, when I was in the fourth year of secondary school. At that time, I was still walking, although my legs were beginning to break and so on. Had I been in a wheelchair, I would riot have been able to go to that school, but would have had to go somewhere else. As I lived in a rural community, it would probably have been several miles away—possibly in Dundee, 26 miles away. Thirty years ago, that was a long distance. In 1970, no one even thought that someone in a wheelchair could attend mainstream school.
I felt passionately about the fact that education was left out of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. That was a glaring omission and I am glad that the Government are putting it right.
In my comments, I had intended to concentrate on part II of the Bill, because its anti-discrimination provisions are relevant to Scotland; part I deals with special educational needs and does not apply to Scotland. However, as I have been called towards the end of the debate and shall perhaps be the last Labour Back Bencher to speak before the winding-up speeches, I want to correct some of the impressions given by Conservative Members.
I have looked carefully at the Bill. Nothing in it suggests the end of special schools, and no Labour Member has said that. I, more than most people, appreciate that, due to advances in medical science, an increasing number of babies and young children survive and live with severe disabilities who would have died in previous generations. They will need an enormous amount of support if they are to be educated. Sometimes that will be in special schools, but I find that, in Scotland, they are frequently educated in special units of mainstream schools. The situation may be different in England and Wales.
Those children do not necessarily follow a mainstream curriculum. Indeed, they may not be very integrated with the mainstream. They go through the same school gate, but they attend a specially equipped unit. They often mix with the other pupils at interval time and lunch time, but there is a special curriculum that they can access. In some cases, they mix and match: sometimes they dip into the mainstream curriculum; at other times, they are taught in the special unit. I taught at a school where there was such a unit. Nothing in the Bill outlaws any of that provision.
The Opposition want the Bill to be passed, but if their amendment is accepted, the Bill will not receive its Second Reading and it will fall. Thus many parents who want their children to receive mainstream education will be denied it, as happens now. Parents who want special education for their children will not be denied it under the Bill, but if it is not passed, plenty of children—perhaps younger versions of myself—will be denied access to the school of their choice, because the local authority or the school can say that it is too expensive to put in the necessary ramps or lift, or that it is too difficult to find a way round the barriers that exist in the school. I therefore hope that the Opposition will think again and reconsider the Bill.
I had intended to concentrate on part II, and I shall do so now. Much has been said about whether the Government listen. I can attest, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne), that the Government have listened to those representing the Scottish dimension. RNIB Scotland and Children in Scotland were concerned that the model of English special educational needs provision would be used as a delivery mechanism in Scotland. They felt that that might be inappropriate if rolled out in Scotland.
The Bill is interesting because it is, I think, the first of its kind—it will put the devolution settlement to the test. We are legislating on a reserved matter—anti-discrimination legislation—but it will be applied to a devolved matter, education. The test is to find out whether the right relationships exist between the House and the Scottish Parliament, and between the officials at the Department for Education and Employment and those at the Scottish Executive.
Initially, charities in Scotland, such as Children in Scotland and RNIB Scotland, were concerned that perhaps the relationship was not right, but many of their anxieties were laid to rest after a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), who has responsibilities for disabled people. They were anxious about two matters: the code of practice and the planning duties.
I shall deal first with the planning duties. The Bill states:
The duty to produce an accessibility strategy or plan will not extend to Scotland.
That rang alarm bells at the charities, as they thought, "Well, if the Bill is not going to extend to Scotland, LEAs will have no duty to provide proper access and auxiliary help." However, that is the devolved element of the Bill, so it will be up to the Scottish Executive to produce their version of that provision to ensure that the accessibility strategy is in place. There will not be a planning duty, because that is not how such things are done in Scotland.
It is interesting that the Scottish Minister who will be in charge of implementing those provisions is the Member of the Scottish Parliament for Aberdeen, South—a Liberal Democrat, working in a Labour-led coalition. I spoke to him yesterday, and he is very well aware of the issues. I am sure that the Scottish children's charities will be in touch with him to ensure that, if the Bill is passed, the time scale for implementation in Scotland is in line with that in England, and that that is done speedily and timeously, as I hope it will be in England.
I seek the Minister's assurance that the Government will continue to work with Ministers in the Scottish Executive and their officials. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun has already paid tribute to the officials at the Department for Education and Employment. I should like to add my thanks to them and the Minister for listening and for taking those concerns seriously.
I appreciate that, whether in Scotland or England and Wales, there must be a rolling programme within the strategic development plan that will make schools accessible. I understand that we cannot do everything at once. We cannot suddenly make all schools accessible to every child overnight, and the needs that should be met first are those in schools with children who have real needs; they should he foremost on any plan. However, I seek an assurance from the Minister that we shall try to speed up that process to make it as rapid as possible. It is not just pupils who use schools. Parents have to visit them for parents evenings, and I hope that there are more disabled teachers than there were when 1 left the profession four short years ago. I hope that I will not have to go back into the profession—although I must say that that would not be a problem for me. I really enjoyed my time in it, but "Not just yet, please" is my plea to my constituents in Aberdeen, South.
Parents, teachers, relatives and visitors all use schools. When I was a teacher, I used to coach the debating team in my school and I had enormous problems getting into other schools when I visited them with the debating team. I would not like to tell the House how many flights of stairs I had to be carried up to reach debating halls. It was ridiculous and no teacher would have wanted that to happen, but that was often the only way in which I could get to the halls.
Matters are improving, and such problems do not exist in every school and local authority. Things have moved on dramatically in 30 years, and there are examples of good practice, but the time has come to legislate to ensure that those problems that still exist are properly addressed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun also referred to the need for a Scottish code of practice. I reiterate that point because it is important. The code of practice is not just about physical adjustments, as the example of Julia shows. She arrived in Arbroath aged 11 with her mother, having gone to special schools throughout her primary career. Her mother wanted to put her into mainstream education, so she looked for a secondary school and Julia arrived at the school in which I taught before I was elected.
Julia had severe cerebral palsy. Although she had good oral skills, she could not move much of her body. She had an electric wheelchair and, with an auxiliary, she was happy at school. Her mother told me that, for the first time in Julia's life, people would say hello to her and ask her how she was when she went down the street on a Saturday morning. She had never been part of a community before. Attending school was good for Julia and good for the other children. The worst scallywag in the class bought her a box of chocolates for her birthday. We think, but are not sure, that he bought them; they came in a brown paper parcel.
The interesting point about Julia's story is not that she went to a mainstream school, but how she ended up at the school in which I taught. There are two schools in Arbroath: the one in which I taught is a 1960s monstrosity with glass, many different levels and lots of stairs; the other is a brand-new school that is properly adapted with wheelchair access everywhere. Julia lived in the catchment area of the new school, so why did she end up at the school with worse access?
The school was not a problem for me. I was an English teacher on the ground floor and the pupils came to me, but there were problems in the school. Julia came to my school because, when her mother visited the two schools, she found that their attitudes were totally different. One said, "Oh, I'm not sure how we can cope with that; that might be quite difficult" while the other said, "Yes, I see that that might be a problem, but I am sure that we shall find a solution." It found a solution and Julia was able to get upstairs even though there was no lift. The local education authority bought a brand new, super-duper, stair-climbing wheelchair. It cost £6,000 and it belonged not to Julia but to the LEA. However, that piece of lateral thinking got Julia round the school relatively cheaply. The solution was certainly much cheaper than installing lifts. I echo the opening remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State: that was seeing a way round the problem rather than seeing the problem.
Education is the basis for ensuring that young people are given equality of opportunity. It is crucial if we are to raise their expectations and aspirations. We must give them goals to aim for, hope for the future and the opportunity to realise their potential.
Young people with disabilities need those opportunities as much as their peer group. If the education system discriminates against them, that discrimination will follow them throughout their lives, denying them the chance to succeed and to be all that they can be Discrimination has no place in education, which is why I am pleased that the Labour Government will outlaw it. I make a last minute plea to the Opposition: please withdraw your amendment. Some matters can be argued in Committee, and it would be inappropriate to vote against Second Reading tonight.
The debate has been fascinating and was enlivened by a range of distinguished contributions. I sat through nearly all the proceedings missing only, I think, the speeches by my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) and the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne). I found myself sympathising with many of the points made, not least—if I may say so without invidiousness—those by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg). There has been a leitmotif—I do not know why—that has cast the Opposition in the role of the bad guys because we have dared to move a reasoned amendment. The hon. Lady will appreciate that it is outwith my power to bestow a last minute change of heart, even at her blandishment. Perhaps the usual channels will reflection the possibility that were we not to proceed with our reasoned amendment, they might drop their programme motion.
The implication is that we are not acting in good faith, yet the Government are requiring us to conclude the Bill's consideration in Committee by 5 April. I do not think that we can have a full discussion about the proper issues unless we put down a marker of dissent and then persist in that dissent by tabling amendments in Committee. Incidentally, that is the role of the Opposition and part of the democratic process. I will award a small prize—not, of course, a pecuniary one—to any Labour Member who is prepared to tell me when the Government have been defeated in the past four years as a result of an Opposition amendment on Second Reading. If they are as worried as they say, it makes me wonder whether they are beginning to run scared of the fate that they will shortly meet.
The debate has been good natured, for all the noises off. It has been informed by passion and commitment on both sides of the Chamber to the cause of special education in its widest sense. In general, hon. Members who contributed felt for children with special educational needs, their parents and—this was eloquently put—their teachers and those who resource them.
The Opposition approach the Bill with three general principles in mind. First, there
is no substantial disagreement…with the broad objectives of the Bill."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 19 December 2000; Vol. 620, c. 645.]
Those were the words of my noble Friend Baroness Blatch on Second Reading. That has been our consistent position, and it remains so.
Secondly, I have no objection in principle to inclusion as such. There are plenty of excellent examples of inclusion in secondary schools and some rural primary schools in my constituency. I have also seen some good examples of what one might loosely call blended provision. For example, a primary school near my constituency, to which some of my constituents send their children, perfectly blends dedicated special provision with other provision. If we were really in the business of the third way, we could follow that example rather than others that I might suggest another time.
Looking at the legislative framework, I consider the Education Act 1996, which consolidated measures and is the basis on which the Bill amends provisions. It reflects legislation that I helped to pass through the House when I had just become a Minister late in 1992. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) will remember debating it. Looking back, I was surprised to find it is a little stronger on inclusion than I remembered it to be. We should say that there is no ideological objection to inclusion, nor is there any objection in principle to the extension of disability rights. Much has been said about why education was not incorporated in the 1996 Act. There were difficulties, including those with resources, which have cropped up in other areas, and the attitude of vice-chancellors, who might not have taken kindly to what they saw as an imposition on their territory and academic freedom.
Leaving aside the judgment that was made at that time, we can say that for a variety of reasons, such as good leadership in the Disability Rights Commission, which we also support, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 has bedded down and shown that it can work without unduly disturbing consequences, so this is an appropriate time to extend it to education. However, enough has been said tonight to make it clear that even if the Bill is not party politically controversial, there is a good deal to discuss and argue about.
I, too, met the Gloucestershire parents and children from Alderman Knight school in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), and I realise that they feel very strongly. I understand that 32,000 people have signed a petition to the LEA in protest at what is being proposed for that school.
There is controversy, and the place to deal with it is here. Clearly, the Bill has already been improved by detailed scrutiny in another place. In fact, if I may mix my metaphors, the walls of Jericho fell without a shot having been fired because the Government withdrew the objectionable proposal to replace the word "specify" in the proposed code on statements with the words "set out". We felt that the original proposed change was unacceptable, and the Government withdrew the proposal before it was ever debated.
A good deal has been done by noble Lords from different parties to put the Bill right, but that does not absolve us—or, dare I say, with respect, Ministers—from the task of taking it through Committee in this place and considering it properly on its merits. It is in that spirit that we tabled the reasoned amendment on which we will invite the House to divide. Principally, it highlights our concern that the educational interests of the child should come first.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) said--I particularly noted this phrase—coercive social inclusion could be counter-productive. The principle of putting the child first is surely unexceptionable in all quarters of the House and occasionally even begins to stray into the speech of Ministers; yet that principle or caveat is apparently being deleted because it is alleged, even by the Special Educational Consortium, to which we have talked, to have damaged the interests of children. The idea that removing a right makes it easier to uphold that right is counter-intuitive. Even if we are wrong, the matter needs to be properly debated. We have all heard flip political statements, notably from current Ministers, in which the phrase, "I have no intention of means "I will". In all events, we need to consider the apparent mismatch between principle and practice.
Our second concern relates to the implied agenda for tilting the balance of special education towards inclusion only. We believe that if parents and children are to exercise an informed choice, they need a range of providers in which to exercise that choice. If, for example, an LEA has closed all its special schools—a case in London was cited—there is simply no choice. An LEA in a rural, dispersed shire such as my own may have special schools grouped in inconvenient places that might be as much as 30 or 40 miles away from the residence of the child concerned, so there is no effective choice.
If the local education authority fights consistently in principle against referring pupils out of area, whether to maintained or, if appropriate, independent special schools, there is at best a restricted choice. Alternatively, an LEA could be driven—possibly by tacit resource complaints—to opt for inclusion on the cheap, with a fanfare of trumpets to say how modern it is being, but without proper resourcing or teacher training in mainstream schools.
Having commented earlier on the schools access initiative, I must point out that it is not only the capital side that matters, as the report has shown. The back-up with current expenditure and the resourcing of teachers and curriculum access also matter. If that proper resourcing cannot be provided, the choice left to parents is an unappealing one.
I am particularly concerned about reviews. When counties such as Gloucestershire, about which we have heard a great deal today, or my own county of Northamptonshire, which has given rise to a little apprehension, review their provision, they might be doing so not out of a genuine concern to reappraise, improve or—dare I say—modernise the pattern of provision. They might be following a hidden agenda.
The problem with hidden agendas is that we never know what they are until it is too late to do anything about them. Such a hidden agenda as I have described could reflect the fact that either the accountants or the ideologues have been sent in to wipe out the special schools. It would be welcome if Ministers could calm our fears, but those points will need careful examination before we can go out and say that, after all, it is all clear and there is no danger. However, I fear that there is danger, in some cases.
Beyond those issues, there is still a great deal more in the Bill to talk about. A matter that I have already raised implicitly was also raised in another place by my noble Friend Lord Baker of Dorking, who said eloquently, with the authority of an ex-Secretary of State, that there was a problem with resources. It is self-evident that if inclusion is to be properly resourced, it will be an expensive matter. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) spoke eloquently about that earlier.
I note that the hon. Gentleman is now nodding in agreement with what I have said.
It is incontestable that the number of children with statements has risen sharply as a proportion of total pupil numbers. There has been an increase of about 25 per cent. over five years, compared with an overall increase of only 5 per cent. in pupil numbers during that time. The cost directly attributable to statements—only a small proportion of the overall cost of special needs—rose in the comparable period from £290 million annually to £370 million.
On the wider expenditure front, the Audit Commission has estimated that 15 per cent. of the total spend on education is allocated to special educational needs. Dr. John Marks, working on a wider definition, has suggested a spend of roughly double that percentage. In any event, we need greater transparency in the delivery of provision. We also need to ensure that the resources earmarked for special educational needs go through and end up with the children, about whom we all say we care most.
I shall not let this occasion pass without referring to the comments in the brief provided by the National Union of Teachers, which states:
The positive measures in the Bill will only be successful if they are backed by adequate funding. The SEN provisions in the Bill are not without significant resource implications. The Union believes that the Government should audit all the costs involved in implementing
those provisions. The NUT has also expressed concern about the need to obtain an assurance in the House of Commons
that special schools have a continuing role and future.
It has been suggested that opposition to the Bill has disappeared. However, l must say in all seriousness to Ministers that there ire still concerns about many points. Those concerns need to be raised and to be answered. With respect to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South, I should not like the disability clauses to pass without further comment. I am not a real lawyer but a lawyer manqué, and have always taken a certain interest in human rights and judicial review issues.
It is remarkable and a little disturbing that, in a different context, the Royal National Institute for the Blind has pointed out that many thousands of cases under part II of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 have already been taken to tribunals, which are the recourse under that provision, but the number of cases involving breaches or alleged breaches of part III duties, although they cannot quite be counted on the fingers of one hand, are under 50, as they have to go to court. Having a background in further and higher education, I am disturbed by the fact that such students, although they have the same nominal rights as school pupils, have to take their cases to court, not the tribunal, as school students do.
The point is made even more sharply if we consider the case of identical twins with identical special educational needs who are over 16, the statutory school-leaving age. One might remain in school and avail himself of rights which he could press at a tribunal; the other, after leaving school, might go to further education college and would have to assert his rights in court. That amounts to a functional discrimination which, in turn, may well find its way to the courts, when decisions and situations are well traced by legal experts.
With respect, the hon. Lady is a member of the Government, and she and her colleagues need to decide what they are going to do about those legitimate issues. They might even spend a little time in Committee explaining to us what they propose to do.
All those matters give rise to genuine concern among parents and others.
The hon. Gentleman graciously allowed me to intervene twice during his speech, so I am ready to allow him to participate, even though time is short. He is aware that I am in close touch with the Disability Rights Commission. I admire very much the good sense of Bert Massie and the way in which the commission has set about its business. I am sure that litigation should be the last, not the first, recourse. However, once one starts granting legal rights, litigation will not be confined to the commission; the odd barrack room lawyer, who may have nothing to do with the commission, may wish to take a case to court and create difficulties. All I am asking, quite reasonably, is that Ministers think about the possibility and come up with some answers.
In conclusion, those matters all give rise to genuine concerns among parents; they cannot simply be shrugged off. In a moment, we are going on to debate a motion on the handling of the Bill. I fear that I he House will hear from me again on that subject and I do not intend to rehearse my remarks here. All that I would say is that we owe it to parents, children and special education providers in this most sensitive of educational sectors to give the Bill—whatever its objectives, aspirations, and highly acceptable aspects, and however improved by a helpful definition of how the Secretary of State will approach statementing and how local authorities are to tackle it—proper consideration. We need to explore the concerns which we have expressed in good faith and to which others have added.
We need to be sympathetic to the case and need to handle it sensitively. We need common sense; in fact, we might say that we need sound sense, rather than soundbites. The children, for whom we are all concerned, deserve no less.
We have had a useful and wide-ranging debate on the Bill. Many right hon. and hon. Members have used their considerable experience of and interest in the subject to make important and well-argued contributions, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), for High Peak (Mr. Levitt) and for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), who are doughty campaigners on these matters. The hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) and the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) made thoughtful contributions, drawing on their expertise as former Ministers. The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) made good use of his family links, and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg), in a moving and thoughtful speech, used her personal experience to good effect. Other hon. Members made important contributions, to which I shall refer in my response.
I am pleased that there has been general support from Government Members for the broad thrust of the Bill. However, I am disappointed that the Opposition will vote against the Bill. The hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) seemed to suggest that because it is not possible for the Opposition to muster enough votes to defeat the Government, it somehow does not matter that the Opposition intend to vote against Second Reading. People outside who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood pointed out, are keen to see the Bill get through, will note the attitude of the Opposition this evening.
Through the Bill, we will give our attention to the needs of pupils with special educational needs and the rights of disabled pupils, students and adult learners to access education. To put that in context, one in five pupils will be identified as having a special educational need at some point in his or her school career. There are more than 1 million young people aged 24 and under who meet the definition of disability in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. In addition, there are more than 60,000 adult learners with disabilities. Those are the people whom the Bill will benefit directly.
The Bill in its present form reflects the changes that we made after considering representations made to us and amendments tabled in another place. We believe that the Bill is better for that. As regards the operation of the new duties in the Bill, we are not interested in a dogmatic or a one-size-fits-all approach; rather, we are concerned with what works in practice. We want an inclusive education system that offers excellence and choice.
Opposition Members made much of their concern to safeguard the needs and interests of children with special educational needs. It was implied by several Opposition Members that the Government were not concerned about those needs. In fact, as several Government Members pointed out, the entire SEN framework supports the best interests of children. Our concern is that the requirement to recognise the needs of the child as a caveat in the inclusion clause has been gravely misused.
For example, a boy with a physical and hearing impairment was successfully included in a mainstream nursery school. When the time came for him to transfer to primary school, the local education authority directed him to a special school, miles away. The LEA said that a mainstream school would never be able to cope. It never considered what could be done to facilitate his continuing inclusion.
The child's parents had to battle to persuade the LEA that a mainstream school could cope. After an appeal to the SEN tribunal, the boy was welcomed into a mainstream school, where he is thriving. The parents should not have had to fight for their child's inclusion. The retention of the "needs of the child" caveat would mean that children who could and should benefit from inclusion would continue to be denied a mainstream place.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. For the record, can she tell us whether that was under the present regime, where the "rights of the child" caveat is embodied? If the decision had been left to the LEA exclusively, would there have been a change? Is it not the case that the rights of the child were embodied and were eventually enforced by the tribunal, and that that effected the change in provision?
No. The point is that the parents had to fight for the child to get into a mainstream school. We want a positive commitment to inclusion. Clause 1 is supported by the Special Educational Consortium, an umbrella for 250 organisations. It is also supported by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, Mencap and the National Autistic Society, even if it is not supported by the Opposition. I know to which of those bodies I would rather listen.
The Opposition have also suggested that the Bill prevents LEAs from funding independent placements, but that is completely wrong. The abilities and duties of LEAs in respect of funding such placements, which are set out in section 348 of the Education Act 1996, are specifically preserved by proposed new section 316A(3), which is contained in clause 1. They also argued that clause 1 would make it harder for parents whose children have statements to gain special school places. Again, that is simply untrue. We have always argued that one size does not fit all, which is why we keep signalling an important and continuing role for special schools.
Clause 1 strengthens the right of children with statements to obtain mainstream places and fully preserves parents' rights to object to mainstream provision. It does not make it harder for parents to gain special school places for children with statements. The Bill underlines the fact that parents' wishes should be listened to.
It has also been argued that the Bill is an attack on special schools. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out, we want mainstream and special schools to work together and we see an important and continuing role for them. The overall size of the specialist sector has not reduced. Since 1996, it has remained broadly static and has catered for about 1.2 per cent. of children, or about 97,000 of them. Changes will continue to be made to ensure that provision reflects local circumstances and needs, as has always been the case.
No; I am short of time.
The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) spoke about the special school in his constituency. I am sorry that he chose to attack Ministers personally for not turning up at his meeting. I must tell him that I received his invitation only this morning. My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford), who has lobbied hard, will confirm my willingness to meet those concerned. The delegation that she brought to me represented a special school in her constituency, and I was happy to meet its members and discuss their concerns. I told them that we are committed to a buoyant and vibrant specialist sector, which explains why funding per pupil for maintained special schools has increased by 20 per cent. in real terms under the current Government. It is also why we have made available to non-maintained special schools direct grants, the standards fund, information and communications technology training, devolved formula funding, funding for teachers to pass thresholds and laptops. All that provision was not available under the previous Government.
The hon. Members for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) and for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) rightly raised the issue of resources. Of course, not everything needs money to change. Much of the change that is needed will be brought about by shifting attitudes, but resources are important, which is why the £500 more per pupil that the Government have put into schools and the increase in the standards fund from £55 million this year to £82 million next :year are so significant. It also explains why the schools access initiative has increased to £220 million over the next three years. That comes on top of the general increase in capital spend, which has risen threefold on the amount that we inherited from the previous Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) spoke passionately about her constituents and has lobbied hard for investment in her constituency, so I am pleased that children in special and mainstream schools will see the benefit. We have made money available for excess in further and higher education. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced £25 million more for early years. We learned today that the Conservatives are still unclear about whether they will match our funding for those purposes. The reality of their policies is that the money that LEAs currently spend on placements in independent schools would not be safeguarded under their spending plans. We have also heard that they are unclear about their free schools policy. Having said that all the money for special educational needs would go to schools, we now hear that it would stay in the local authority. Presumably the sign on the SEN officer's door would be changed from "local education authority" to "local authority". The Conservatives cannot have it both ways: they cannot promise more money to schools and then do U-turns sun as tonight's.
My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak raised important issues about early years education and my hon. Friends the Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) and for Aberdeen, South discussed Scottish Executive responsibilities and particular issues for Scotland. As they said, I have written to the Scottish Executive because it is for Scottish Executive Ministers to decide how to respond to the disability rights taskforce recommendation on the statutory duty to plan to increase access. I am sure that their call for quick action has been heard.
The codes of practice were also mentioned. The Bill will confer powers on the Disability Rights Commission to produce either Great Britain-wide codes, separate codes for England and Wales and for Scotland or Great Britain-wide codes with Scottish chapters. Although the education and legal systems in which the new duties will apply differ, the duties themselves will be the same. When my hon. Friends met the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), she made it clear that we would be careful about Using experts from Scotland on the drafting groups for the code. There will be a GB-wide consultation and we shall consider separate chapters for Scotland.
The Bill will strengthen the SEN framework to improve the education services provided to children with SEN and their parents, and it will put right the previous Government's omission by removing the unjust exemption of education under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. No longer will an education provider be able to discriminate against a disabled pupil, student or adult learner on the ground of disability.
Education is the key to ensuring that everyone, regardless of individual needs and whatever their background, has the opportunity to fulfil their potential. Attitudes have shifted a long way from the days when disabled children often had little choice but to attend special schools or institutions and were frequently separated from their families and friends. Schools, colleges and universities are increasingly inclusive, but we are determined to maintain that progress and to support good work such as that which I saw last week at George Green's school in Tower Hamlets, which is an excellent example of a school where inclusion and high standards work together.
The school is unfazed by the diverse needs of the pupils it serves, including six who use wheelchairs and several with limited mobility, complex medical needs, severe communication difficulties and learning difficulties. The school's belief in inclusive education, like that of the Government, comes first. Everything else is then a challenge that can be surmounted. When that can-do ethos is combined with a strong focus on to teaching and learning, visionary leadership and, increasingly financial support from a Government who share its vision and are willing to invest in it, the result is a successful and popular school that achieves despite difficult circumstances.
The Bill and the Government's insvestment will ensure that many more schools can develop like George Green's and that many more children can benefit from what schools like it have to offer. As we said in our recent Green Paper, inclusion and equality of opportunity are an important part of our drive to promote higher standards. They represent the start of lifelong learning opportunities open to all, regardless of disability.
The Bill, which the Opposition oppose, demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that pupils, students and adult learners have the opportunity to meet their potential. It will ensure that we move one step closer to a society in which all are valued for what they can do, rather than judged for what they cannot, and I commend it to the House.
|Division No. 160]||[9.59 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Amess, David||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James||Loughton, Tim|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Luff, Peter|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Baldry, Tony||McCrea, Dr William|
|Beggs, Roy||McIntosh, Miss Anne|
|Bercow, John||MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew|
|Blunt, Crispin Body,||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Sir Richard||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Boswell, Tim||Madel, Sir David|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)||Malins, Humfrey|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia||Maples, John|
|Brady, Graham||Mates, Michael|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||May, Mrs Theresa Moss.|
|Butterfill, John||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Cash, William||Norman, Archie|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney(Chipping Barnet)||Ottaway, Richard|
|Chope, Christopher||Paice, James|
|Clappison, James||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)||Paterson, Owen|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth(Rushcliffe)||Pickles, Eric|
|Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Cran, James||Prior, David|
|Curry, Rt Hon David||Randall, John|
|Davies, Quentin (Grantham)||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)||Robathan, Andrew|
|Day, Stephen||Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)|
|Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen||Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)|
|Duncan, Alan||Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)|
|Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)|
|Evans, Nigel||Ruffley, David|
|Fabricant, Michael||St Aubyn, Nick|
|Fallon, Michael||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Flight, Howard||Shepherd, Richard|
|Forth, Rt Hon Eric||Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Spelman, Mrs Caroline|
|Fox, Dr Liam||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|Fraser, Christopher||Spring, Richard|
|Gale, Roger||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Garnier, Edward||Steen, Anthony|
|Gibb, Nick||Streeter, Gary|
|Gill, Christopher||Swayne, Desmond|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl||Syms, Robert|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Taylor, Ian (Esher&Walton)|
|Green, Damian||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Grieve, Dominic Gummer,||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Rt Hon John||Tredinnick, David|
|Hamilton. Rt Hon Sir Archie||Trend, Michael|
|Hawkins, Nick Hayes,||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Heald, Oliver||Waterson, Nigel|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas||Wells, Bowen|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Whitney, Sir Raymond|
|Jack, Rt Hon Michael||Whittingdale, John|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Jenkin, Bernard Key,||Wilkinson, John Willetts|
|King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Kirkbride, Miss Julie||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Laing, Mrs Eleanor||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Leigh, Edward||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Letwin, Oliver||Mr. Keith Simpson and|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Crausby, David|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)|
|Ainger, Nick||Cryer, John (Hornchurch)|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Coy'try NE)||Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack(Copeland)|
|Allen, Graham||Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)|
|Anderson, Rt Hon Donald (Swansea E)||Darling, Rt Hon Alistair|
|Davey, Edward (Kingston)|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary||Davidson, Ian|
|Ashton, Joe||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Bailey, Adrian||Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)|
|Ballard, Jackie||Davis, Rt Hon Terry(B'ham Hodge H)|
|Barnes, Harry||Dawson, Hilton|
|Bayley, Hugh||Dean, Mrs Janet|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret||Denham, Rt Hon John|
|Begg, Miss Anne Bell,||Dismore, Andrew|
|Martin (Talton)||Dobson, Rt Hon Frank|
|Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)||Donohoe, Brian H|
|Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)||Doran, Frank|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)||Dowd, Jim|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Drew, David|
|Benton, Joe||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)|
|Berry. Roger||Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)|
|Betts, Clive||Edwards, Huw|
|Blackman, Liz||Ellman,Mrs Louise|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Ennis, Jeff|
|Blizzard, Bob||Field, Rt Hon Frank|
|Blunkett, Rt Hon David||Fisher, Mark|
|Boateng, Rt Hon Paul||Fitzpatrick, Jim|
|Borrow, David||Flint, Caroline|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Flynn. Paul|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Brake, Tom||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)|
|Brand, Dr Peter||Foster, Michael J (Worcester)|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Foulkes, George Fyfe, Maria|
|Brown. Russell (Dumfries)||Galloway, George|
|Browne, Desmond||George, Andrew (St Ives)|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Gerrard, Neil|
|Burden, Richard||Gibson, Dr Ian|
|Burgon, Cohn||Gidley, Sandra|
|Burnett, John||Gilroy, Mrs Linda|
|Burstow, Paul||Godman, Dr Norman A|
|Butler, Mrs Christine||Godsiff, Roger|
|Byers, Rt Hon Stephen||Goggins, Paul|
|Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Gordon, Mrs Eileen|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Cann, Jamie||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Caplin, Ivor||Grocott, Bruce|
|Caton, Martin||Grogan, John|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Hain, Peter|
|Chaytor, David||Hall, Patrick (Bedford)|
|Clapham, Michael||Hanson, David|
|Clark, Rt Hon Dr David(S Shields)||Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet|
|Clark, Dr Lynda(Edinburgh Pentlands)||Harris, Dr Evan|
|Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)||Healey, John|
|Clelland, David||Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)|
|Clwyd, Ann||Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)|
|Coffey, Ms Ann||Hepburn, Stephen|
|Cohen, Harry||Hesford, Stephen|
|Coleman, lain||Hewitt, Ms Patricia|
|Colman, Tony||Hinchliffe, David|
|Connarty, Michael||Hodge, Ms Margaret|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Hoey, Kate|
|Corbett, Robin||Hope, Phil|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Hopkins, Kelvin|
|Corston, Jean||Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)|
|Cotter, Brian||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Cousins, Jim||Howells, Dr Kim|
|Hughes Ms Beverley (Stretfold)||Moffatt, Laura|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster. N)||Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)|
|Humble, Mrs Joan||Morley, Elliot|
|Hurst, Alan||Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle(B'ham Yardley)|
|Iddon, Dr Brian||Morris, Rt Hon Sir John(Aberavon)|
|Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)||Mountford, Kali|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Mudie, George|
|Jamieson, David||Mullin. Chris|
|Jenkins, Brian||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)||Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)|
|Johnson, Miss Melanie(Welwyn Hatfield)||Naysmith, Dr Doug|
|Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)||Olner, Bill|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)||O'Neill. Martin|
|Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)||Opik, Lembit|
|Osborne, Ms Sandra|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardif)||Palmer, Dr Nick|
|Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)||Pearson, Ian|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)||Perham, Ms Linda|
|Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa||Pickthall. Cohn|
|Joyce, Eric||Pike, Peter L|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Plaskitt, James|
|Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)||Pond, Chris|
|Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)||Pope, Greg|
|Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)||Pound, Stephen|
|Khabra, Piara S||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)|
|Kidney, David||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Primarolo, Dawn|
|King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)||Purchase, Ken|
|Kingham, Ms Tess||Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce|
|Kumar, Dr Ashok||Quinn, Lawrie|
|Ladyman, Dr Stephen||Radice, Rt Hon Giles|
|Lammy, David||Rammell, Bill|
|Lawrence, Mrs Jackie||Rapson, Syd|
|Lepper, David||Raynsford, Nick|
|Levitt, Tom||Rendel, David|
|Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)||Robertson, John(Glasgow Anniesland)|
|Lewis, Terry (Worsley)|
|Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen||Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)|
|Linton, Martin||Rogers, Allan|
|Livsey, Richard||Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff|
|LIwyd, Elfyn||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Lock, David||Rowlands, Ted|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Ruane, Chris|
|McCabe, Steve||Ruddock, Joan|
|McCafferty, Ms Chris||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)||Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)|
|Ryan, Ms Joan|
|McDonagh, Siobhain||Salter, Martin|
|Macdonald, Calum||Sanders, Adrian|
|McDonnell, John||Sarwar, Mohammad|
|McFall, John||Savidge, Malcolm|
|McGuire, Mrs Anne||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Mclsaac, Shona||Sheerman, Barry|
|McKenna, Mrs Rosemary||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Short, Rt Hon Clare|
|McNamara, Kevin||Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)|
|MacShane, Denis||Skinner, Dennis|
|Mactaggart, Fiona||Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)|
|McWilliam, John||Smith, Angela (Basildon)|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)|
|Mallaber, Judy||Smith, John (Glamorgan)|
|Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)||Smith, Sir Robert (W Abd'ns)|
|Marshall, David (Shettleson)||Snape, Peter|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Soley, Clive|
|Maxton, John||Southworth, Ms Helen|
|Meale, Alan||Spellar, John|
|Merron, Gillian||Squire, Ms Rachel|
|Michael, Rt Hon Alun||Starkey, Dr Phyllis|
|Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Miller, Andrew||Stevenson. George|
|Mitchell, Austin||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin||Vaz, Keith|
|Stringer, Graham||Walley, Ms. Joan|
|Stuart, Ms Gisela||Watts, David|
|Stunell, Andrew||Webb, Steve|
|Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)||White, Brian|
|Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Taylor, David (NW Leics)||Williams, Plt Hon Alan(Swansea W)|
|Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Williams,Alan W (E Carmarthen)|
|Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)||Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)|
|Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)||Willis, Phil|
|Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)||Wills, Michael|
|Timms, Stephen||Winnick, David|
|Tipping, Paddy||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Tonge,Dr Jenny||Woodward, Shaun|
|Trickett, Jon||Worthington, Tony|
|Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)||Wright, Tony (Cannock)|
|Turner, Neil (Wigan)|
|Twigg, Derek (Halton)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Tyler, Paul||Mr. Tony McNulty and|
|Tynan, Bill||Mr Gerry Sutcliffe.|