|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 202refers to as "next year" and which I refer to as "next month", which makes it sound closer--is expected to amount to more than £4.6 billion, an increase of about 30 per cent. All local authorities, including the shire counties, will have more than they have for the current year. We are talking about a spending power for each local authority in the forthcoming month, or the year that starts next month, which will be higher than that for the current year. I am not sure that that information was totally clear from my hon. Friend's speech, but it was implied in his comments.
In setting capital allocations, the law does not allow account to be taken of the distribution of capital receipts between authorities. Most local authorities responsible for highways have below average ratios of receipts to total capital expenditure programmes and, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, the system has had a particularly inhibiting effect on roads expenditure. That has influenced authorities to underspend their provision. It is for each authority to decide on which services its capital receipts are to be used. No highway authority is without capital receipts to top up its roads allocations.
As my hon. Friend knows--the House will want to welcome this--proposals for a new system for regulating local government capital finance were published by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in July 1988. Last month the Local Government and Housing Bill was laid before the House. Part IV of that Bill contains proposals arising from last year's consultation and provides for a fairer system to be introduced for 1990-91. There are two key features. First, central Government control will be reduced from control over the extent of capital spending to control on the use of borrowing and Exchequer grants for capital purposes. Account will be taken of each authority's access to capital receipts. That last point should be good news for most highway authorities and for Hampshire, although it will be relatively less good news for Hampshire than for other authorities because of its existing position in terms of capital receipts. Secondly, the funding of local roads and transport capital programmes will be put on a clearer, more logical basis. Local authorities will retain full responsibility for determining their road and transport programmes.
Transport supplementary grant provides central Government support for local authority capital expenditure on roads of more than local importance. The criteria and guidance for TSG go out for consultation to local authorities and I am sure that Hampshire, like other local authorities, will put its view forward when that process takes place again in the current year. However, the responses from the local authorities, together with the associations, will have to be taken into account, along with the representations that I am sure will be made by Hampshire directly.
Grant is paid on the local authority's estimates of future expenditure at a flat rate of 50 per cent. Each local highway authority puts forward an annual transport policy and programme submission setting out its expenditure proposals for the next financial year. The 1989-90 TPPs include a proposal for expenditure of £690 million on schemes that the submitting authorities consider appropriate for TSG support. The Secretary of State is required to determine how much of each authority's proposed expenditure he will accept for grant. In doing so, the main factors to be taken into account are whether expenditure is on a road of more than local
Column 203importance, the extent to which it would provide value for money and benefit traffic, its benefit to the community, industry and commerce, road safety and the environment.
Distribution of TSG is not based on a pre-determined formula. If it were, no local authority would receive extra when it has extra need and it could almost be included in rate support grant. Authorities could spend from current funds rather than relying on TSG to provide significant extra help. When a scheme is named for TSG, it carries with it a capital allocation to enable the local authority to borrow the rest of the money. In effect, having a scheme accepted for 50 per cent. funding by TSG allows the local authority to carry out work and solves the financial problems in getting a road scheme agreed. Roads of more than local importance include not only roads on the primary network but bypasses, roads relieving communities of the effects of through traffic and links with motorways. The 1989-90 total for TSG is £204 million--an increase of nearly 7 per cent. on the current year. If TSG increases more than that capital allocation provision, the amount of capital allocation remaining available to highway authorities decreases. I do not remember during last year's consultations a local authority or an association of local authorities saying that it would prefer the TSG element of the capital allocation to be reduced.
Not all requests for grant can be met. There is competition for grant among authorities' programmes. That helps to ensure that grant support is concentrated on schemes which offer the greatest benefit. Some 61 new schemes have been accepted for TSG in 1989-90, 17 of which will directly assist inner-city areas. I make that point because although I am about to deal with Hampshire--we must recognise that in the past some areas have not received the attention that they should have. If it is possible to help to regenerate inner-city areas, some of the enormous pressure for continued economic growth in areas such as Basingstoke and Hampshire will be relieved.
If some of the figures that I am about to give do not appear reconcilable with those given by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, it is probably because I am not putting the case across in the clearest way. It might be sensible for Hampshire's county surveyor to take up detailed points with the regional office of the Department of Transport. I suspect that they will be able to agree facts, even though my hon. Friend and I may be putting some of the totals differently.
Hampshire's capital allocation for roads for1989-90 is nearly £11 million, which is a 4 per cent. increase on last year. Nationally, the average is a 2 per cent. decrease. I make that point gently, not because it is a significant cash increase for Hampshire but to compare it with the cut for the rest of the country. Hampshire's TSG for 1989-90 will be more than £4.8 million, which is a 17 per cent. increase. The national average is an increase of 7 per cent. Instead of a 7 per cent. increase, Hampshire is receiving an increase of 17 per cent., and instead of a cut of 2 per cent in capital allocation, which includes TSG, it is receiving an increase of 4 per cent.
Mr. Hunter : On capital allocation, it will be necessary for the county council and my hon. Friends' officials to consult further, but my clear understanding of his answer to my written question about a week ago, to which I
Column 204referred in my speech, is directly opposed to the answer that he has just given. The matter therefore needs to be pursued in far greater detail.
The change in transport supplementary grant--the 17 per cent. increase--has occurred despite an adjustment because of underspending against agreed TSG- supported programmes in previous years. An adjustment for underspending is not a penalty or a criticism. No highway authority, whether it be the Department of Transport nationally, which cares for 4 per cent. of roads, or the local highway authorities, which care for 96 per cent., can programme precisely what spending will take place in any one year. It depends on statutory procedures, the weather and a multitude of other factors.
The transport supplementary grant total for Hampshire includes continued support for six major schemes, including the Portswood to Swaythling bypass costing more than £10 million. I had better give the next figure quietly because other hon. Members may start to say, "What about us?" The Blackwater valley route is now estimated to cost more than £43 million. I am aware that the Blackwater valley route is a road shared with Surrey and is geographically on the boundary of Hampshire, rather than providing help for the centre of Hampshire which for the purposes of todays debate I regard as my hon. Friend's constituency. To be able to continue work on a £43 million scheme, or even a £10 million scheme, involves quite a lot of road and quite a lot of money.
Support has been included for one new major scheme--stage two of the Totton western bypass. Hampshire's capital allocation for 1989-90 is the sixth highest of all shire counties and the 10th highest of all 108 highway authorities. I seem to have miscounted previously. If I continue my speech much longer, the total may reach 110. The more serious point is that Hampshire's capital allocation is the 10th highest of all local highway authorities. Hampshire is a major highway authority and a major county.
Mr. Bottomley : As my hon. Friend says, it is the largest county even without the Isle of Wight. The high estimated capital expenditure on roads in the future, especially on the Blackwater valley route, is likely to keep Hampshire near the top of the league.
Those points do not deal with my hon. Friend's underlying problem--what is to happen to the A33, the Reading-Basingstoke road. He rightly points to the fact that increased traffic is bringing increased danger. He has also made the point that he is not concerned only about county roads. He referred, too, to the Black Dam roundabout and asked whether the Department's grant criteria had a bias against Hampshire.
I shall deal with the third point first because it is the easiest. There is no bias against Hampshire in the transport supplementary grant criteria. If there were, it would not be the year for any county surveyor in Hampshire to make the point because a 17 per cent. increase in transport supplementary grant when the rest of the country has 7 per cent. suggests that any bias is working in favour of Hampshire rather than against it. For any good politician, which the county surveyor may be, or any good honorary county surveyor, which my hon.
Column 205Friend the politician may be, it is better to start striking early for future provision, as Hampshire will be able to use money to great advantage.
My hon. Friend came to the Department and put me right on a number of issues. I pay tribute to his past attention to the road needs of Hampshire as well as to the other needs of his constituency. I understood that the work on the A33 Reading-Basingstoke road was not expected to start before 1992. I am not sure to what extent the county has programmed in relation to the expected availability of funds and to what extent in relation to the planning, design and statutory processes that it would have to go through before it could expect to start the work. For the purposes of this debate, it is perhaps not particularly important that I should know. What matters is that the county should have the expectation of being able to obtain the funds reasonably close to the time at which it needs them. One of the advantages of our present transport policies and programme system, and of the transport supplementary grant system, is that most authorities can gain access to money when they are nearly ready to start a road. In general, we try to help highway authorities with roads when they plan to start to spend significant sums in the subsequent financial year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke referred to the Black Dam roundabout. The Department would like to cope with some of the problems as soon as possible. On another occasion my hon. Friend pointed to the doubling of the local work force that is forecast over the coming two or three years. It is important that the district and county councils should keep the Department's regional office informed of developments because significant increases in occupied offices in the area will contribute more significantly to congestion than it would in other areas, where there is no direct link between the use of offices and road access. We hope to make small-scale improvements in the roundabout, which we hope will ease traffic congestion in future. We shall also be looking for a more long-term scheme, to be added to the national programme when that can be justified. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke and I agree on what needs to be done, but we shall have to try to sort out the timing of a long-term scheme to relieve congestion.
My hon. Friend engagingly invited me to go for a long drive with him. I am not sure whether to accept. I do not want to commit myself until I know the standard of his driving. One of my troubles is that by nature, and because of my responsibilities, I do not exceed the speed limit, so I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his tolerance of my arriving slightly late for the debate. Even at this time of the morning, I try to drive well within the speed limit. I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall continue to use my eyes as I drive through Hampshire, and my ears when I am within range of my hon. Friend. I shall also try to continue to help his part of Hampshire to cope better with traffic needs.
Without making too many partisan points, I should point out that it is important to have a road network which complements the country's public transport and rail network. We expect the railways to continue to contribute to the country's economic future, although we understand that it is no longer axiomatic--as it was for the first two years during which I was responsible for roads--that a new rail proposal will be welcomed with open arms. Privately, I think that the reason why Jonathon Porritt is to retire as director of Friends of the Earth is that whereas
Column 206some people who regarded themselves as Friends of the Earth said during my first two years, "Never build a road-- always build a railway," when a railway was proposed this time it was not the Friends of the Earth who leapt into public print to say "Don't worry about a railway--it's good for you." I am not sure that the railways in question were welcomed with open arms in the constituency of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) any more than they were in my constituency of Eltham.
It is right to have roads which meet the needs of people who now have access to cars. It is not complacent to say that we shall never be able to cope with all the potential demand for people driving into inner and central London as car commuters but that it should be possible to cope with congestion in most other parts of the country most of the time. More people now have cars than ever before. During the stewardship of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister since 1979, the proportion of adult women with driving licences has increased from 40 per cent. to 50 per cent., and it will go on increasing to 60 per cent. and 70 per cent. Since 1979, the proportion of retired people with driving licences has increased from 30 per cent. to 40 per cent., and it will go on increasing, as the age curve moves forward, to 50 per cent., 60 per cent. and 70 per cent.
I see no reason why women, pensioners and people who may have been categorised as ethnic minorities should not be able to use the roads in the same way that white middle-class men have been able to do for generations. Part of the democracy of transport is to say that, whatever one's background, sex or age, anyone who can drive reasonably safely can share the roads, although if all the car drivers get their cars out of the garage at the same time and try to drive in the same area they may have a greater opportunity to listen to local radio for a longer time than they otherwise might.
Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) : The Minister cannot possibly be suggesting that all car drivers would get into their cars at the same time. He must acknowledge that, even though more women are acquiring driving licences and may be becoming car owners, for most of their lives the majority of women are still more dependent on public transport. Although he has again acknowledged that there are limits to car use in the city, when we are talking about a county as close to London as Hampshire it is important to recognise that we cannot keep building roads in counties such as Hampshire and allow all the increased volume of traffic to go into London.
There is a difference between the hon. Gentleman's and my party's policies on roads in London. As he knows, Opposition Members believe that there is no reason to justify major new road schemes in London. That point applies to other parts of the country, too, particularly the south-east and the traffic generated in the capital where restraint is undoubtedly necessary and will be more necessary in future.
Mr. Bottomley : As the county elections approach, it will be interesting to see the number of county council wards in Hampshire and other places in the south-east in which the Labour party puts up candidates.
Mr. Bottomley : The hon. Lady says, "Everywhere." We shall see, but I believe that there is an informal alliance between the Labour party and the Social and Liberal Democrats or the SDP in parts of Hampshire.
Mr. Bottomley : And in Basingstoke, too. The hon. Lady has contributed well to the debate. We must remember that, as the county council season approaches, people will put themselves forward to join the highway authority, which is what the county council will be. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke will tell the House whether the Labour party intends to stand down for the remaining parts of the alliance, or whether the alliance will stand down for the remaining parts of the Labour party.
Ms. Ruddock : As the Minister tempts me into making party political points, he must acknowledge that, of taxes raised through road funds, the proportion spent on roads was close to 35 per cent. when Labour left office in 1979. I understand that it has now fallen to 25 per cent. The Minister cannot suggest that in general the Labour party has been less committed to investment in and expenditure on roads. None of our county council election candidates would have any difficulty in making the case that they have been committed and will continue to be committed to road matters. As the Minister knows full well, my point related to London.
Mr. Bottomley : I would rest by saying that we spend on roads roughly what is raised by vehicle excise duty. The argument that we do not spend all that we raise on taxation on fuel on roads would be a fair point. Hypothecation--which is one of those polysyllabic words that means spending the money raised on things from which the money comes--was a principle that was dropped 51 years ago. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) can probably confirm that. I do not believe that it applies any more to alcohol duty than it does to petrol duty. If it is Labour party policy that all the money raised on the combined tax on fuel and on vehicle excise duty should be spent on roads, I am not sure that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) has approved that. Perhaps the hon. Member for Deptford could consider that matter with her right hon. Friend.
I shall pick up the point made by the hon. Member for Deptford about London. If the Labour party is saying that it will never spend any money on roads in London, that is not the point. The hon. Lady has conceded that we should spend some money on some roads in London. The question is what sort of roads. I am grateful that, as a
Column 208constituency Member of Parliament, I managed to persuade the Labour Greenwich council and the GLC to put forward proposals for the Rochester way relief road.
I shall return to the capital allocation for Hampshire. I hope that it will be possible for the Labour party to play a greater part in the local politics of Hampshire. It would reduce the chances of the Social and Liberal Democrats or the Social Democrats winning as many seats as they might otherwise win. I hope that the Labour party's reinvolvement in Hampshire will be echoed in Surrey, in the Isle of Wight and in the other counties where at one stage it slipped to about 2.4 per cent. of the popular vote. With the capital allocation in Hampshire, I believe that local politics would be enhanced by that greater participation. If it meant that the local Labour party started to vote at Labour party conferences on the sort of matters that concern people in Hampshire--such as roads, a sensible defence policy and other important issues--that would be good for politics in Britain.
Mr. Bottomley : My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke did not raise the question of railways in Kent. Perhaps the hon. Lady will allow me to return to the points that my hon. Friend made. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced an increase in road spending. As my hon. Friend said, most of that will go on national roads. I give a warning that if the people tendering for roads decide to put their prices up they will not get a steady programme in the future. The person who wrote the second editorial in the New Civil Engineer misinterpreted what the Department was saying, is saying and will say in the future. It would be much easier for us to release a fairly steady work load if the contractors put forward fairly steady prices. We shall not go back to the sort of budgeting of the last Labour Government who between 1975 and 1979 had to halve new national spending on new national roads in real terms. We are not that kind of Government. We are willing to take the hard decision, even if it means disappointing some of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke for a time. It matters that we should keep the national finances under control and spend more money on capital investment than on current subsidies. We expect to see a 40 per cent. increase in the money available for the national roads programme during the next two years of the public expenditure survey period, and we expect to have a more sensible system of local government capital spending so that counties such as Hampshire can spend the kind of money that they need.
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : The Minister said that contractors should not expect to put in tenders at the same prices. That is interesting. From the evidence given to the Public Accounts Committee a week
Column 209ago, it is clear that his Department is relying on a recession in this country so that tender prices will drop. That is the significance of the Minister's remarks and of the evidence given to the PAC.
Mr. Bottomley : It would not be proper for me to anticipate the conclusions that the PAC will reach in its report following the attendance of the permanent secretary. The point that I was seeking to make about the New Civil Engineer is that officials gave clear advice to Ministers and Ministers took the decision. I am in no sense trying to do the work of the PAC--that would not be proper--but it is perfectly reasonable for me to point out that whoever supplied the information to the New Civil Engineer did not understand or did not listen when questions were answered about how the Department's budget would be spent. Ministers took a clear decision on whether the new capital programme or the capital reconstruction should carry the load. When second leaders in the New Civil Engineer --not an earth-shaking event, although I pay tribute to the magazine's general role- -put on the accounting officer a responsibility taken by Ministers, and accuse Department officials of not understanding what they understood perfectly well and put to us in a way that we understood perfectly well, it is right to put the record straight. I wish that the rest of the press would occasionally report the words of Ministers when they praise the work of civil servants for giving clear, non-partisan advice rather than saying that the Civil Service has been politicised or is incompetent. I note that the Press Gallery is not full--not that one ought to notice even if it were. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke has rightly drawn attention to the fact that a highway authority, especially Hampshire, could spend more money to great advantage. We are moving towards a system whereby counties such as Hampshire will be able to do just that. My hon. Friend says that Hampshire has been badly done by. I have done what I can to refute that in a friendly way. Hampshire has had more capital receipts available than other highway authorities and has had a greater increase in transport supplementary grant, although I accept that the free capital allocation is not so great as it would otherwise have been.
There were some points of difference on detail and number and I will ensure that the regional office gets in contact with the county surveyor of Hampshire to see if there is an irreconcilable difference that my hon. Friend and I should sort out. If it turns out that I have given any incorrect figures, I shall say so as soon as I can. The residents of Basingstoke are well served by my hon. Friend. I hope that it will be possible to move forward with the transport supplementary grant system in such a way that my hon. Friend and Hampshire will be satisfied with the criteria and with the outcome and that unnecessary congestion, casualties and inhibitions on economic growth will be removed by sensible improvements to national and county road networks.
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : I am grateful that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science is present to respond, but as I have already told the Minister and his Department, the services for children with special educational needs are provided by the health authorities. That is an important point to stress.
In 1987 there were about 134,000 children with special educational needs in our schools. About 109,000 of those children are in special schools and the other 20,000 plus are in ordinary schools either in ordinary classes or in special units. Therefore, not all the children with special educational needs are in special schools, but only about three quarters of them.
Under the Education Act 1981 these 134,000 children were assessed in respect of their special needs ; a statement of their needs and how they were to be met was produced. I shall not go into the details of the children's problems--their disabilities are many and varied. These children are our fellow citizens. They have brothers and sisters and mums and dads and they are as entitled as the rest of us to flower physically and intellectually to their maximum potential. The Education Act 1981 was an advance, and I pay tribute to it. However, all legislation passed by the House with good intentions should be carefully monitored so that it delivers and does not merely build up people's hopes, only to dash them again.
I want to discuss physiotherapy services for pupils. Later, I shall touch on speech therapy, too. Unless many of the pupils with physical disabilities can obtain the services and resources of a physiotherapist, their legal right to education under British and international law will be lost.
The Wilson Stuart special school in Kingstanding is in my constituency. It is a typical special school for children with disabilities. It is attended by about 140 pupils aged from three to 16. It shares a site with two other special schools, one for pupils with hearing difficulties and the other for children with a sight handicap.
The physiotherapy input to the school is provided not by Birmingham education authority but by the west Birmingham health authority. Wilson Stuart school has always served my constituents, as it has those living in Erdington, Ladywood and Sutton Coldfield. It has been in my constituency only since the boundary changes of 1983. I seem to recollect--as I watch the Minister's smiling face--that we both represent west midlands constituencies and share former membership of the Birmingham education committee.
I have raised the subject of this school in the House before. Back in 1987 I complained to the then Secretary of State for Social Services--my constituency neighbour, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler), whose constituents' children attend the school--about the lack of physiotherapy. I do not want to be partisan in this debate, but the right hon. Gentleman dismissed my complaints as nonsense and said that the services were adequate.
Some of the parents who complained about the lack of physiotherapy for their children in early 1987 ended up having their children re-classified as needing no physiotherapy--just supervision. That did not go down
Column 211too well. Late in 1987, the pattern of physiotherapy was adjusted to improve matters--that cannot be denied. On 27 October 1987 I asked whether Ministers were satisfied with the amount of physiotherapy for children in the special schools in Birmingham. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), the then Minister, replied : "Yes". In answer to a supplementary question, she pointed out that the school
"was affected by a shortage of physiotherapists at the end of last year"
"but is currently up to establishment".--[ Official Report , 27 October 1987 ; Vol. 121, c. 158-159.]
She also said that there had been an increase in the west Birmingham health authority physiotherapy levels.
Later in 1987, the parents had to form the Wilson Stuart parents' action group. During 1988, they had several meetings with the staff of the west Birmingham health authority. I do not mean just the staff but the leadership of the health authority, Mr. Gerry Goghlan, and the general manager of community medicine, Dr. Mike Hilburn, who have given this matter personal attention, having actually met the parents on at least two or three occasions in 1988 at a time convenient to the parents, and that, of course, does not mean office hours. Notwithstanding that, in January 1989, during the Christmas recess, at the request of the representatives of the action group, the parents asked to put the up-dated position to me because there were again difficulties.
It is, as I said to the Minister, a humbling process to listen to a group of parents describe how they organise their lives around their handicapped children. Some of them have, of course, other, perfectly normal children, who need the love and affection of their parents and do not need to be shut out because of concentration on one of the children. We all live together on this planet as equal citizens and it is remarkable what the parents of handicapped children have to do, and do willingly, to create as normal a life as possible for both their normal and handicapped children.
I give the Minister four of the examples I was given in January of this year in relation to 1988, having been told in late 1987 that matters had been put right and that, by and large, services were adequate. First of all, Liam, aged five, was at Wilson Stuart for two years but over an 18- month period received no physiotherapy. At one time this young lad was actually left off the speech therapy programme as he was thought to be uncommunicative. The whole point about speech therapy, I thought, was to increase and improve communication skills.
Next, Anthony, aged six, at Wilson Stuart for three years : during 1988 he received no physiotherapy at all. This young lad had a real problem with balance, with no chance to help improve it through physiotherapy, and the parents told me that he had indeed, stagnated.
Kate, aged eight, was assessed as needing intensive physiotherapy and yet over an 18-month period received virtually none, albeit this was partially due to illness among physiotherapy staff. Tragic though that is, and this is appreciated and understood by the parents, there were not enough resources to back up physiotherapy staff who became ill.
Then there was Katherine, aged seven. She again had had a period of almost 18 months with no physiotherapy.
Column 212Indeed, she was removed from Wilson Stuart in September 1988, and was actually sponsored by Birmingham city council at a residential school near Cardiff.
Many of the pupils attending this school, which serves at least four of the north Birmingham constituencies, reside not in the area of west Birmingham health authority but of north Birmingham health authority, and I understand north Birmingham health authority makes no financial contribution to west Birmingham health authority in respect of those services.
I do not expect the Minister to deal with this point, as I know that this matter may well end up being addressed as a result of the recent White Paper on the Health Service, but the general issue of the input to special schools is not addressed at all in the White Paper. I do not intend to raise that here tonight.
In January I again took up these matters, and indeed other matters relating to Wilson Stuart School, with West Birmingham health authority and I had a considered response from the chairman on 14 February. He made it quite clear that the situation was improving from a managerial point of view and that the authority was to employ physiotherapists who would provide a better service than had been provided. Notwithstanding the points which the chairman made, he concluded :
"I think that the authority would accept that the need and demand for physiotherapy at the school outstrips supply, but I think that the measures that we have taken indicate our concern to maximise the use of limited resources."
The "need and demand" for physiotherapy input at Wilson Stuart school "outstrips supply". It could not be clearer that there are not sufficient resources for the pupils at Wilson Stuart school. The parents and I do not criticise anyone at the school. We have no criticisms of the non-teaching staff including the caretaker, cleaners and the dinner ladies or of the teaching staff including Mr. Grantham the headmaster. We also have no criticisms of the physiotherapists. The school is extremely well supported by the local community. The school's annual fete attracts well over 2,000 people. It is impossible to move for the hustle and bustle of people willing to support that important school. The parents' action group and the governors have been very supportive in their fight for their rights. I appreciate that the legal position has been slightly muddied. Until the end of last year I do not think that it was possible for a local authority under statute law to employ physiotherapists or speech therapists. That would have been classed as non-educational provision.
Unless pupils at schools such as Wilson Stuart, who are typical of the 100,000-odd pupils who have had statements written about them, can obtain physiotherapy, some of it on a daily basis, they cannot receive the education which is their right. As a layman I would say that there is a specific and direct connection between the input of physiotherapy servies and the receipt of education. I would argue that that input becomes an educational provision because those children cannot receive an education without it.
I accept that section 7 of the Education Act 1981 was changed during the passage of the Education Reform Act 1988. An amendment was passed in the Lords at the third attempt against the wishes of the Government, but they accepted it in this place and there was no attempt to overturn it.
Column 213That change potentially allows local educational authorities to employ therapists, although there are no extra resources to enable them to do so. The change is referred to in paragraph 64 of the draft circular issued by the Department of Education and Science in December. I believe that that draft circular is out for consultation at the moment.
Paragraph 64 contains the only mention in the draft circular to the amendment to section 7 of the Education Act 1981. However, there is no mention of the resource implications and the resources are still a matter for health authorities and not the local education authorities. According to the draft circular, the local education authorities may provide services but the responsibility for provision rests with social services departments and district health authorities. There is no question of buck-passing there.
It has been put to me--although I do not know how far this might progress-- that the position is so serious in many special schools that the deprivation of a proper education caused by a lack of those services might result in the Government being dragged before the European Court of Human Rights. That is being contemplated at the moment. Obviously the amendment to the 1981 Act referred to in the draft circular relates to the case involving Avril Muller of Colne and Lancashire county council in respect of speech therapy provision for Avril's nine-year old son Christopher. I understand that the Court of Appeal ruled on that case last week.
I make no criticism of health authorities, which work as closely as they can with local authorities in the provision of educational and social services. However, they are hamstrung. Last August, the Birmingham-based National Association of Health Authorities published a report on health authority concerns about children with special educational needs. That report resulted from a survey of health authorities concerning implementation of the Education Act 1981. My understanding is that up to last Wednesday, the Government had not responded to that report. Although the Minister is concerned with educational matters, I hope, that as there is a joint responsibility between two Departments, he will be able to comment on that important report.
That case, which may or may not go to the House of Lords, concerns the provision of speech therapy for Avril's nine-year old son, Christopher. It is claimed that speech therapy must be provided, and the courts support the mother in that contention. The same case could be made for physiotherapy as for speech therapy, where the potential damage to the child's education is such that he or she does not receive the education to which they have a right. We do not really want to refer all such cases to the European Court, if only because they take so long. It is the children who suffer from such delays. It must be remembered that this country is not short of financial resources. We may think that it is now 5.25 am on Monday 13 March, but to the 55 million other people in this country it is Tuesday--Budget day. We all know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a tremendous surplus, but probably he is too frightened to spend it. If a little of that surplus could be given to health authorities for extra resources, such as physiotherapists and speech therapists to help the 100,000 children having special educational needs, it would not go amiss. It would not be wasted but would represent a fantastic investment in those children, in their future, and in their families and communities.
Column 214No fewer than 105 health authorities with responsibility under the 1981 Act for children with special needs responded to the survey, which represents a substantial proportion of those involved. The report kicks off with a quote from a health authority in the north-west that
"this district is unable to meet fully the physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy needs of children in either mainstream or special schools The generally held opinion was that whilst the procedure imposed by the circular was both comprehensive and largely appropriate, it has the major effect of placing a heavy administrative demands on occupational physiotherapists, speech therapists, physiotherapists, senior clinical medical officers, health visitors and all sectors' attendant clerical support staff." I ask the Minister and his right hon. and learned Friend in the Department of Health to ensure that the circular, when it is published, removes some of the bureaucratic burden on the specialist professionals. It may be that more clerical resources--perhaps including specialist clerical resources--will release professional physiotherapists and speech therapists to do the job that they are trained and want to do, which is serving their patients.
Let me put on record part of the report's summary and conclusions for follow-up purposes, as I certainly do not expect this to be the end of the matter. Its powerful arguments include part of the submission from the district general manager of a Mersey region authority :
"It was one of the intentions of the 1981 Education Act that education authorities should first outline a child's special educational needs as perceived after a multi-professional assessment and then make a statement of how it was proposed to meet those needs. One object of this exercise was to use the assessments to ascertain levels of need in various respects, this information to be used for planning purposes etc. The reality has been that the distinction between these two stages has been fudged and blurred as much as possible because a clear separation of the two would simply indicate the stark reality of the gap between need and provision, and make life impossible for education authorities. The agencies involved have therefore entered into more or less of an implicit conspiracy to mumble about ascertained need sufficiently vaguely for the statement of provision to be made in terms of the grossly inadequate resources available. I am advised that this is a professionally and ethically unacceptable situation with which, however, we are forced to live. That is a powerful indictment from a health authority administrator concerned, I suspect, that parents were being conned.
According to the report, it
"was the generally held opinion that the continuing successful implementation of the 1981 Education Act"--
for it has been a plus, and I do not knock it in that respect "did and will, depend on the allocation of additional resources to :
fund an appropriate number of paramedical posts to provide therapeutic services of good quality,
provide nursing care in mainstream schools for children with special physical needs,
provide adequate administrative/clerical support to professional staff."
I cannot over-emphasise the importance of that last item. We are not calling for a doubling or tripling of the number of therapists, but for the full potential of existing therapists to be released. Hospital consultants are not expected to do the filing : that is done by filing clerks and trained administrative and clerical staff so that surgeons can be released to perform operations. It is exactly the same at other levels of health care.
The report concludes :