This has been an excellent debate. It is reassuring to be brought down to earth from the ghastly things that are happening in financial markets throughout the world to talk about such an important subject that affects so many of our constituents, day in, day out, and their families and carers.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend John Bercow, who gave another bravura performance. Humility may not come naturally to him, but we were humbled by the expertise and mastery of his speech.
It is good to see such a good turnout, and especially the three former and existing chairmen of the all-party group on autism, of which I have been vice-chairman for some time. The original research commissioned by the all-party group on the experience of early intervention on autism in schools led to further work being done by the Government. The manifesto that we produced a few years ago is as relevant today as it was then, and we look forward to making a lot more progress towards the 2013 target date.
Dealing appropriately with special educational needs and autism is a real challenge and full of problems. The number of children designated with special educational needs in this country is high—more than 19 per cent. or 1.5 million children. That is far higher than the equivalent rate in the United States or France, for example, where it is typically between 5 and 7 per cent. The challenge is particularly great here. Many of those children are designated with autism, and many who are not so designated will have various versions of autism spectrum disorders.
We have heard the figures for the desperately higher incidence of bullying and exclusion, and the figure of 27 per cent. for exclusion is probably an underestimate, because many informal exclusions occur when teachers fail to distinguish between disobedience and disability, which is also problem with the public at large. Good early intervention at school will have lifelong consequence for the child, if we can get it right in the first place.