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Column 223Members--who are interfering in our proceedings, anyway--to discuss a purely English matter on what is a Scottish subject?
Mr. Howarth : I am grateful to you for that ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I remind Opposition Members that although they may accuse us Englishmen of interfering in Scottish affairs, the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) could be seen rushing down the corridor to participate in and vote on English matters.
Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East) : I left to take part in a Division on the Local Government and Housing Bill, a measure which affects my constituents in Scotland as much as it affects the people of England.
The Minister has shown the Government's commitment to ensuring that both sides of the argument on this matter are fully explored, and I can think of no fairer system that could be introduced in this legislation. Let us not forget that the Bill is permissive. It imposes no statutory requirement on schools in Scotland to opt out. It is not draconian. It enables parents to reach a decision for themselves. It shows a genuine concern by the Government for parental choice.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) said that we were concerned with the wishes of parents. Although the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) initially described as excellent the Strathclyde regional council's document, that document was widely rejected by the Labour party because it flew in the face of Labour's policy, which was enunciated only a month later, and that was comprehensives all round. It did not seem to wish to see the diversity of education provision in Scotland.
We are left with confusion on the Socialist Benches. Although the Opposition apparently welcome the amendment, the thrust of the Labour party's policy on Scottish education has been to return to the same grey uniform policy of "Take it or leave it. We the politicians know best", which was the policy that it brought before the nation in the 1960s.
Mr. Sillars : Irrespective of party divisions, I, like most other Scottish Opposition Members, am sick and tired of hearing lectures from people who are grossly ignorant of the history and development of Scottish education and its achievements.
Ayrshire decided to move to a comprehensive system at the same time as Enfield in England, but the experience was different. There were major problems south of the border, but there were no major problems north of the border, where the comprehensive scheme was implemented and has been a shining success ever since.
We in Scotland agree with comprehensive education, because it fits in with the egalitarian nature of the body politic in Scotland. If Conservative Members from south of the border are interested in Scottish education, they should visit our comprehensive schools to see the variety of education provided for children and the considerable
Column 224stimulus given to them during their school life. They will see the degree of commitment that has existed for generations among Scottish teachers because they believe in the philosophy that underwrites Scottish education. The only time that that has been broken was during the dispute between the teachers' unions and the minority Government represented by the Minister. He did more damage to Scottish education in a few months than Attila the Hun could have done if he had come over and roamed about the place.
Unfortunately, we are under the pressure of a guillotine, but will the Minister tell me about amendment No. 3? I want to know whether I am correct in saying that a school without a school board cannot opt out. It is a great tragedy that we have reached this late stage before some hon. Members have had an opportunity to ask Ministers for elucidation.
Most Scottish people would like the television in the Chamber to be live tonight so they could see that they are reasonably well represented on the Opposition Benches. They would also see that at one time there were no Scottish Tory Members present. There are now two--the Minister and the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn). More importantly, I would like the television cameras to be on when the Division bell goes and the Conservative Benches begin to fill up with English Tories passing through into the Division Lobby to vote us down irrespective of our point of view, even though we represent the majority opinion in Scotland on this measure.
The position is becoming a farce. The Government will pay heavily for that farce when the House is televised and Scottish people do not need to rely on us to tell them that we can win all the arguments but that we are overwhelmed by the arrogant and ignorant English Conservative Members who do not give a click of their fingers for the Scottish people. However, their day of reckoning will come. I was pleased that the Minister nodded when I asked that key question. We should spread the word throughout Scotland that, if there are no school boards, there can be no opting out. The Government have inserted the necessity for a school board because their ultimate objective in Scottish education is the privatisation of some schools. There must be a mechanism to take us into the interim phase of school boards and opting out and then on to the the final phase of the objectives set down by the ideologue, the chairman of the Tory party in Scotland the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth).
We should tell the Scottish people and parents and those who will be parents that, if they want to prevent the ultimate privatisation of our education system, they should not go down the road of the school boards.
Mr. McAllion : The last English Conservative Member who spoke--the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth)--finished his peroration with the observation that the Labour party argued that politicians know best. That could not be further from the truth. However, it could not be more apposite to describe the way in which the Tory party in Scotland operates. It has been overwhelmingly rejected by popular opinion in
Column 225Scotland, but the Tory Government continue to push every one of their prejudices down the throats of the Scottish people, irrespective of what those people think.
Mr. Gerald Howarth : Will the hon. Gentleman concede that the Bill says that it is the parents who will decide? The Secretary of State is not imposing on Scottish parents the requirement that they shall move to self- governing status.
Mr. McAllion : Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a ruse on the part of Conservative Members to continue to argue that this is permissive, not statutory, legislation. The Government would not impose statutorily on schools within education authority control a requirement that they should all move to direct control by the Scottish Office. If they did that, they would be treating all the schools the same. The basis of the legislation is that some schools in Scotland will be treated differently from others. That is why it is permissive. It is to allow some schools to opt out, while the rest remain under education authority control. It is designed to allow schools that opt out to be given more capital resources and more revenue resources and to receive more favoured treatment by the Government. That is why the legislation is permissive. No Opposition Members are convinced by the Government's arguments.
I was interested in the response that the Minister made to the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) when she asked whether there could be moratorium on the time between a school board being established and any possibility of that school requesting opting-out status. The Minister said quickly, "No." He said that because those schools are to opt out from August 1990 onwards. If there were to be a two-year moratorium, it would take us beyond the next general election. Thereafter, there would be no possibility of any schools opting out, because the Government will not be in power after 1991 or 1992, and nor will this legislation which they have imposed on the people of Scotland.
Mr. McFall : On the finances of opted-out schools, my hon. Friend will remember that, in column 237 of the Standing Committee report, I asked the Minister about the finances that would be available to schools for opting out. He told me that the finances would be no more than those presently received from the education authority. However, in The Daily Telegraph , this week there was a report about the opting out of schools in England, where a number had been given more than they had received from the education authority. There were no apologies for that from the Secretary of State for Scotland. They will receive more because privatisation is on the agenda. It is bribery, and nothing else.
Mr. Gerald Howarth rose --
The Minister responsible for education expressed concern about the provisions in the Scottish legislation not being as tight as those for England and Wales. The Minister explained that that was why the Government were accepting this group of amendments. I welcome that back-pedalling when I compare it with the position that
Column 226was taken by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), in Committee.
It is refreshing to witness this change of tack and the change in personalities since the Minister of State has taken over responsibility for education. It suggests that he accepts, at least in part, the fundamental argument that was advanced by the Opposition in Committee. We said that, when the Bill left Committee, the way was open for a small clique of parents to hijack school boards and thereafter to hijack boards of management and to take schools out of education authority control without the approval of the majority of parents with children attending those schools. I am glad that the Minister says now that he wants to ensure that parents properly appreciate what they are voting for. That is something that never concerned the Under-Secretary of State.
We are told now that, before a ballot takes place, the education authority will have to be informed. Four or six weeks will have to pass before a second resolution is passed by the school board announcing its intention to hold a ballot. The Minister made his intention clear when he said that the education authority and the school board would want to conduct what he said --I took a note of what he said and I may not have recorded his words exactly, but I have the drift of them--would be several weeks of campaigning, with mass publicity, to ensure mass support for whatever proposals came forward from the school board thereafter. I believe that those were the words that the Minister used, and I find them somewhat optimistic. When the Minister was questioned about the resources that would be made available to school boards and education authorities to allow them to indulge in mass campaigning on the issue before the parents that would be the subject of the ballot, he was more than vague in his reply. He gave no guarantee that additional resources would be made available to the boards or the authorities to enable them to conduct the campaigns which the hon. Gentleman now says are necessary if ballots are to have any meaning in the context of whether schools should opt out of local education authority control.
The Minister's position is flawed for another reason. It ignores the secondary importance which is attached in the Bill to ballots of parents. The Minister referred to the outcome of any such ballot as a positive statement of parental opinion. What does he mean by that? Does he mean a clear majority of all those who are entitled to vote in the ballot? We tried again and again to get a ministerial response to that question in Committee, but we remained unsuccessful. It remains unclear what the Secretary of State for Scotland will regard as a positive statement of parental opinion. The Minister of State has repeated the statement that the Secretary of State for Scotland will make to those who have chosen to express their vote. There is still the possibility that, after a publicity campaign and a ballot has been held, a clear minority of parents who intended to vote for opting out will be regarded by the Secretary of State as having made a positive statement of parental opinion, thereby allowing the Government to say that the school should opt out of education authority control.
On 3 May, when we were dealing with the guillotine motion, the Secretary of State made a comment which may be helpful to both sides of the argument. He said that he wanted to ensure the right of local communities to control their school structure, that being one of the finest
Column 227traditions of Scottish education. I think that everyone will agree with that sentiment. Unfortunately, nothing in the Bill guarantees that that tradition will continue. It will still be possible for a minority of parents to win a minority vote in a ballot and thereafter to secure the support of the Secretary of State in allowing the school to opt out of education authority control. That is unjust and undemocratic, especially in the context of current Scottish politics.
I remind the Minister that, since the Bill emerged from Committee, there has been a change of opinion in Scotland. The Scottish people are listening to the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Stirling and paying attention to the debate on education in Scotland. The opinion polls show that support for the Labour party in Scotland stands at 55 per cent. while support for the Tories is only 18 per cent. In other words, the Tories have sunk even lower than the depths to which they fell during the 1987 general election. That is because measures of the sort that we are confronted with in the Bill have been forced down the throats of the Scottish people.
The Scottish people have been denied the Parliaments for which they have voted in successive general elections. They have been denied also the opportunity to vote in elections by a Prime Minister who is now running scared of a stalking horse in the Conservative parliamentary party. At the same time, she is running even more scared of the electorate outside this place. The Scottish people can express their opinion only through opinion polls and local government elections. They have done so again and again and have made it clear that they do not want the legislation that is being introduced by this Government. The democratic voice of the Scottish people has been heard. They do not want the Bill. If the Minister listens to the people of Scotland, he will withdraw it.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross) : The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) has again done the House a service by giving an entirely ignorant description of the history and merits of Scottish education. It is not renowned for its worth because of comprehensivisation : it is renowned because there are few other systems which have more successfully seen parents determined to encourage the education and excellence of their children. If we examine the encyclopaedia of those who have been successful in the world--
It being two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the timetable motion, Madam Deputy Speaker-- proceeded, pursuant to the Order this day, to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 5 to 8, 11 to 13, 20, 21, 26 to 29, 48 to 51, 53 to 55, 4, 17, 39, 10, 14, 15, 82, 89, 90, 16, 19, 22 to 24 and 41 to 43 agreed to.
Lords amendment : No. 30, in page 17, line 22, leave out "in implementation of the authority's duty".
Mr. Lang : I am pleased that these amendments have come before us today. They are concerned with technicalities of the financial arrangements for self-governing schools which provide for children with records of needs. But beyond that, they give the House the opportunity to take stock of the totality of the benefits and safeguards which the Bill contains to ensure that no child with special educational needs will be worse off when a school, be it a special school, a mainstream primary school or a secondary school, achieves self-governing status.
It is true that the Bill as originally presented did not provide specifically for special schools to elect to become self-governing. The problems of doing so, although not insurmountable, appeared difficult and, at that time, it was thought best to defer tackling them immediately. In Committee, however, Back-Bench Members argued persuasively that parents of children at special schools should not be denied opportunities given to others by the Bill--so persuasively, in fact, that my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) voted for the amendment to include special schools and agreed to introduce further amendments which would support it. Let it not be forgotten that this amendment was tabled by various members of the Committee, and originally by the Opposition, not by the Government. The Government bowed to the wishes of the Committee.
In making arrangements for recurrent grant for special schools, the changes that we made to the Bill also deal specifically with the provision for children with records of needs who are accommodated in mainstream schools. Mainstream placement of these children is becoming increasingly common and most schools which become self-governing are likely at some time to have such a child on their role.
The Bill now ensures full funding for the education of recorded children attending self-governing schools. It provides for discussion and exchange of information between the board of a school and the authority so that agreement can be reached on the level of provision to be made and the cost of that provision.
I have heard it said by the Opposition that when a special school ceases to be under education authority control it will mean that the authority's strategy for special educational needs will be destroyed. But that will not happen. The purpose of the dialogue to which I have referred is precisely to ensure that the self-governing school will continue to play its full part in that strategy. We made it clear that the range of provision for special educational needs is a characteristic of a school which may not be changed except by a ballot of parents and with the consent of the Secretary of State. I assure the House that, save in very exceptional circumstances, I do not envisage that consent being given when the existing level of provision needs to be maintained as an essential element in the arrangements for special educational needs in the area of the education authority in which the self-governing school is located.
Column 2296 pm
We do not stop there ; we wish schools to be progressive in this area. Schools are therefore given a positive duty to consider improvements in provision for special educational needs. To help that, the Bill provides that an extension of such provision is not to be regarded as a change in the characteristics of the school, and the balloting procedures and so on need not be operated.
Perhaps the most important aspect of our approach, as set out in clause 27, is the reassurance that it will give to parents of children with learning difficulties. They have been concerned that self-governing schools might be tempted to marginalise special educational needs and divert the resources so urgently needed by their children to other purposes. That cannot happen. The agreement between the authorities and the schools will earmark the resources needed and will guarantee that the identified provision will be made by the school. In essence, priorities for special educational needs will be agreed and implemented.
Although the Bill will protect this area of expenditure, we have taken steps to ensure that the arrangements are not inflexible. Much has been made by those who do not want special schools to be given the same rights as others of the difficulty that schools and authorities might have when predicting needs. I readily accept that that will not be easy and that a school believed likely to be the most appropriate placement for a recorded child may not ultimately be found to be so. Variations may increase or decrease the level of need at a particular self-governing school.
We have therefore provided in clause 27(6) for agreements to be varied at any time during the financial year. Once a variation is agreed, the recurrent grant will be altered accordingly. Thus, on a change of plan involving a recorded child, the resources that it was proposed to use at the intended school could be transferred to the school that the child is attending. I hope that the House will agree that the outcome for children with special educational needs has been satisfactory.
I believe that the provisions now in the Bill show that we should have taken the bull by the horns and included special schools from the outset. Moreover, we have at all stages had a great regard for the special needs of children with learning difficulties, and I am bound to record that in part III of the Bill, as well as in part I, this concern has transcended party barriers. The humane and sensitive--not to mention long--debates that we have had on this issue at all stages of the Bill's progress have shown the work of the House and that of another place in the best of lights.
Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie) : These procedures have been outrageous, and this manner of dealing with important Scottish business will be short-lived when vision returns to the Chamber--we cannot wait.
When I read the report of the Committee's proceedings I was reminded of the way in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) dealt with hecklers at a meeting who were giving him a bad time. He responded to rent-a-mob by telling them that they had made a grave error by underestimating his insensitivity. That is what has happened with this Bill.
Column 230It never occurred to anyone that the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) could possible consider that special schools could appropriately be included in the opting-out procedures. The Opposition will never again underestimate his nastiness. We shall never, for instance, table an amendment stating that we should privatise the air that we breathe, because the hon. Member for Stirling would accept it.
However, even the hon. Gentleman realised eventually that there was something special about special schools and that it was inappropriate for them to opt out, but he became persuaded in Committee that special schools should be included. This is a valuable service--it is not generally criticised--for a vulnerable group of people and, of necessity, it must be provided over a wide area. I can think of no sort of institution more prone to being taken over by a small group. I am sure that all hon. Members have shared my distressing experiences at constituency surgery whenever a new theory of special education comes along. It might come from the Centre for Human Achievement ; it might have to do with conductive education ; it might be almost anything. The parents of these children have been dealt a raw deal by life and they hanker after any solution that is offered.
For example, the hon. Member for Stirling paid a single visit to Hungary and came back enthusing about conductive education. I make no comment on the virtues or otherwise of such education ; it should be considered, but it is disturbing that, because of a passing fad, a relatively small group of parents might be able to change the nature of a school and impose on it a theory that might turn out to be wrong, with all the consequential difficulties.
The other reason why the proposal for the opting out of special educational schools is so offensive is that the greatest virtue of special schools lies in their links with the services provided by the local authority and the health board. Needlessly to introduce difficulties into these links might make it difficult to obtain services of occupational therapy, psychology, speech therapy, social work, nursing and transport. The Minister has admitted that this is going to cause greater complexity, and it is a foolish and regrettable step.
We need to examine the admission criteria of special schools. When there is a parental influence over a school, the parents tend to believe that the school is for children like their own, thereby excluding those who do not fit in. I have heard of schools rejecting wheelchair cases because of the problems that that would present for the other children. Local authorities with strategic responsibility for an area must take a position on this. It is offensive that tiny schools providing services to a large geographical area should be able to distort the services that are available to others in that area. That will destroy the coherence of the services for special educational needs.
We welcome many of the improvements in the Lords amendments, but I and my hon. Friends want to register our sense of outrage at the way in which this matter has been dealt with and at the sheer insensitivity of the Minister. We shall come to regret the day when this Bill was passed, and we shall have a sense of shame that this clause is part of a Scottish Act.
Column 231who served on the Standing Committee will know, because of my background a great deal of my time in Committee was concentrated on special schools and special needs.
It was with great sadness in Committee that I saw people with special needs become a political football. Whatever the Labour party's faults in picking up an amendment that was originally submitted by the Scottish Parent Teachers Council, The hon. Members for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), who are not present, were more despicable in picking up the amendment and not speaking about special needs, special schools or handicapped children, but playing a neat party political point and ignoring a key issue.
It is interesting that the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) did not follow the example of the Conservative party chairman in England and Wales and ensure that special schools were exempted from the Bill. The Minister was foolhardy to allow himself to be manipulated by his acolytes on the Back Benches into going down that road, which was far in excess of what we have seen from the Department of Education and Science.
We are dealing with one of the most vulnerable sections of our society. Parents with handicapped children are deeply concerned about their children's education, whether there will be a facility for them within the local community or whether their children will have to be transported elsewhere.
Children in my constituency have to travel from Elgin to Aberdeen, where they stay for the week and then return home at weekends. To turn this into a party political issue is despicable. It is one of the lowest levels of behaviour that I have ever witnessed in Committee in all the years that I have served in the House. The Lords amendments improve the Bill, but they go nowhere near recognising the real concerns of parents. It is unfortunate that we did not have the opportunity to discuss records of need, a matter which was dealt with in amendments Nos. 65 and 72. For the benefit of those organisations which will be reading our deliberations, if they have not heard them, it is worth putting it on the record that those amendments came after about 17 others and were followed by another 30, yet we had all of 10 minutes to discuss the group. Amendments Nos. 65 and 72 were important, but they were not even given an airing in the farcical situation of the guillotine being imposed.
The Minister should remember that schools establishing units dealing with children with special needs, or trying to involve them in the day-to-day life of the school, will face major expenditure, whether it be for access for the physically handicapped or for the purchase of equipment to deal with a child's handicap. The Minister should read some of the articles produced by the Royal National Institute for the Blind or the Royal National Institute for the Deaf on the type of equipment that is needed and how expensive it is. Will additional capital grants be made available to self-governing schools which provide continuing access for handicapped or disabled youngsters? Capital requirements are important.
If a school becomes self-governing, the danger is that the board of management will decide that it is not worth buying a piece of equipment for a child with a specific handicap and will suggest that the child goes to another
Column 232school. Such a child may then be removed from the family, yet the family is vital to any child with special needs. They, more than any other child, need to return to the love and warmth of their home within the community.
I am deeply concerned that, whatever reassurances may be mouthed at the Dispatch Box, the guarantee that currently exists that specific handicaps will be provided for, either through special schools or through special capital grants, will no longer be available. I hope that the Minister will comment on that when he replies.
The Minister said that a great deal of consultation has taken place on how best to cope with various comments made in Committee and on Report. Will he tell us exactly what consultation has taken place with those organisations with specialist knowledge of handicapped children? He will recall that, on Report, my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) referred to a letter dated 2 June from Mr. Cunliffe, responding to points that I had raised in Committee. That was a Friday, so I presume that it reached the various organisations, most of them voluntary, on Monday 5 June. That letter asked them to reply no later than Tuesday 13 June. Is the Minister talking about a similar pathetic attempt at consultation? I would have much more respect for the Minister if he would list the organisations to whom he spoke.
What assessment was made of the needs of children in Scotland and of the provision for the training of teachers in what is a highly skilled area? Those teachers have been the most deprived of in-service facilities. There have been cuts throughout the history of remedial education and further cuts in learning support. Fewer and fewer people are being trained in those areas. What consultation did the Minister have with the colleges of education on the provision of teacher training in those areas?
I could raise many other aspects on this group of amendments. I am genuinely angry at the way in which the Government treated the issue in Committee, on Report and in the other place. There has been no genuine commitment to even understand the extent of the problem that exists. I doubt whether the Minister has even read the survey published by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys pointing out the number of disabled people who exist in Scotland. I doubt whether real cognisance has been taken of the extent and depth of the problem. He has not given the most vulnerable in our society the real assurance they need, that, under this legislation, facilities for any handicapped child will be available, where possible within their community and, where that is not possible, that at least grants will be made available to help parents when residential education is needed.
I am not convinced that the Government have taken those points on board to any great extent. I shall support the amendments, but with much concern and reticence, because they do not go anywhere near meeting the needs that exist.
Mr. McAllion : I share the anxieties expressed by the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) about the way in which the matter was dealt with in Committee. The consideration of special education should not descend into petty party-political point-scoring as it did in Committee. It is regrettable that, in introducing the amendments, the Minister continued the tradition set by the hon. Member
Column 233for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) of trying to turn this into inter-party political bickering. The matter deserves much more serious consideration.
Sometimes the Minister and his hon. Friends give the impression that they have decided to allow special schools to opt out of education authority control, not because that would be best for the children who attend such schools but simply as a means of embarrassing the Labour party over the way in which some amendments were tabled in Committee. That is reprehensible. It is something that we might have expected from the hon. Member for Stirling, but I did not expect it from the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang). I hope that when he replies he will apologise for giving the impression that he is continuing to play party politics with special education.
Will the Minister deal with the important strategy that is pursued by education authorities in making provision for special education? When I was first elected to Tayside regional council, its policy was to send all blind children to the Royal Blind school in Edinburgh. That posed serious problems for parents : from the age of five, their children were expected to leave their homes in Dundee and stay in Edinburgh between Monday and Friday, returning only at weekends. The parents therefore formed a campaign group called Sight. Having lobbied local councillors and the education authority, they gradually succeeded in obtaining provision for their children. Now a special unit provides primary education for blind children in a Dundee school ; a similar unit provides them with secondary education.
If the Minister's interpretation of the amendments is correct, I assume that it will be possible for such a special unit to opt out and to set up its own provision, parallel with that offered by the education authority. If that is so, it should be resisted : owing to the number of blind children attending the Dundee units, it would be extremely wasteful to duplicate such provision.
The Minister said that the Secretary of State for Scotland will intervene to ensure that such provision as I have described will remain. I trust that it will not be possible for those units to opt out, and that the needs of all children requiring special education in my area will continue to be met by the education authority. I hope that all the resources that the authority requires will be provided and integrated to ensure that the needs of children come before those of any political prejudice about opting out.
Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute) : Although I believe that it is vital to cater for children with special educational needs, it is entirely inappropriate to deal with special schools in the context of self-governing status. The Government should not have included clause 27 in the Bill. There is no basic demand for self-governing status in the special schools, and it is significant that fewer parents have been taking up positions on school boards. That reflects not a lack of interest on their part, but the close and intimate links that already exist between parents and staff in special schools. Parents, on the whole, have overwhelming confidence in the management and administration of such schools. The Government have placed an unacceptable burden on parents who already spend many hours caring for their children. The uncertainty created by the Bill will make it extremely
Column 234difficult for a local authority to provide special education on the basis of a planned system, and to allocate funding where it is required.
As for conductive education, although I welcomed the Health Minister's support for the sending of children to the Peto institute in Hungary, many physiotherapists and speech therapists--who had tried for years to obtain resources to give those children intensive therapy--are astonished and dismayed. They are deeply hurt, and feel that the Government have dismissed their years of effort. Will the special schools have to buy in services from the NHS? I fear that what has been built up as an integrated team service is likely to become fragmented and destabilised, as have so many other services--particularly the NHS--following the Government's actions.
Mr. Lang : There is relatively little time for me to reply, but I shall try to cover at least some of the points that have been made. Following what has been said by some Opposition Members, I think it appropriate to put into perspective the circumstances in which the Bill came to be amended. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) put something of a gloss on the Opposition's behaviour. In England, there is no provision for special schools to opt out, and the Scottish Bill originally provided for an option for regulation to allow it at a later date. However, the Opposition simultaneously tabled two sets of amendments, one designed to bring the Scottish position into line with the Education Reform Act 1988, and the other--sponsored, I understand, by the Scottish Parent Teacher Council--to include special schools in the entitlement to opt out from the outset.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) added his name to those amendments--which strikes me as entirely proper, as he supported them. That led to the debate, as a result of which the view of the Committee prevailed, and it was decided to make the change. Surely that is far from being a reprehensible or party-political approach to what is indeed a serious issue. In my view, the issues concerning special educational needs--which are difficult and sensitive, and to which Conservative Members attach great importance--have been debated not only sensitively, but thoroughly and well.
It being two and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker-- proceeded, pursuant to the Order this day, to put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Mr. Speaker-- then designated Lords amendments Nos. 35 and 36 as appearing to him to involve questions of privilege.
Lords amendments Nos. 35 and 36 agreed to. [Special Entry.] Lords amendments Nos. 31 to 34 agreed to.
Lords amendment : No. 37, in page 20, line 19, after "board" insert "held, subject to subsection (1A) below, not less than five years after the incorporation date".
"(1A) With the prior written consent of the Secretary of State a motion for such a resolution as is mentioned in subsection (1) above may be determined at a meeting of the board of management held at a date earlier than subsection (1) above would require.".
Mr. Lang : The amendments prevent the board of management of a self -governing school from initiating the procedures in clause 30 to change the characteristics of the school for a period of at least five years from the incorporation of the board unless it has the prior consent of the Secretary of State. They give precise expression to our stated policy, which is, in a nutshell, that the change to self-governing status would itself be change enough for any school to absorb, without its having to contemplate further major organisational change shortly afterwards. There must, of course, be provision for the exceptional case : for example, population movement in a locality could radically affect demand for a particular school. That is covered by amendment No. 38. It avoids the defect of an otherwise similar amendment, which was rightly rejected by my hon. Friend in Committee.
Clause 30 seems to have received more attention than any other clause in the Bill. Let me say something about how we see it working, particularly in the light of the amendments. It should first be said--although it ought to be obvious--that it is essential to provide some means by which a school can adapt its organisation to changing circumstances. That applies in the public and private sectors equally. An independent school is governed by the rules of the marketplace ; it must identify a demand that it can meet, and that is sufficient to ensure that it attracts enough pupils to remain financially viable. It is free to adapt its organisation accordingly.
On the other side of the fence, an education authority is a public provider, with a responsibility to ensure that there is adequate school provision for the geographical area that it covers. To do that, it too must be free to close schools, to open new ones and to reorganise and adapt those that continue under its management. The self-governing school stands somewhere between the two. It is a free-standing institution and, in that respect, is like an independent school. It remains part of the public sector, however, and, on that account, must be subject to some control over any major changes that it proposes in the range or character of its provision. However, it would be absurd if a self-governing school were, alone among schools, to be prevented by statute from ever changing its characteristics.
Control over a school is twofold. First, a board of management cannot just come to the Secretary of State and, so to speak, do a private deal with him to get its scheme of government amended. It has to obtain support in a ballot of parents and then publish its proposals. Only then can it go to the Secretary of State and ask him to determine whether it is to be allowed to change its status. 6.30 pm
Secondly, the Secretary of State, by virtue of another amendment to the clause, has to take account of the implications of any proposed change for the education authority's own provision in the area. In other words, he is precluded from considering the self-governing school's