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Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it not an abuse of the House for a question to be tabled on a Friday for answer on the following Monday when the issue is not an emergency ? I refer to question 1167 on today's Order Paper, tabled by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva), in which he asks the President of the Board of Trade

"when he expects to be able to publish the consultative document on the opening up of the domestic gas market ; and if he will make a statement."

The issue is of vital importance to the millions of gas consumers, particularly those on low incomes, who are not likely to benefit, and those living in remote areas, whose charges will almost certainly rise. The issue has been the subject of great interest and controversy since last September, when the Monopolies and Mergers Commission first made its recommendation in a report on the domestic gas industry

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is a long-standing Member of the House. He knows that he cannot make a speech on a point of order. Will he now come to his point of order for me ?

Mr. O'Neill : I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker. May I make the point-- [Hon. Members :-- "No."]--that the Government's first response was made on 21 December, after the House had risen ? Thereafter, we expected a full statement to the House. Instead, the Government are hiding behind a written answer two days after the by-election defeats. It was delayed to avoid the elections, and has now been hidden from the gaze of the House and questioning by that technique. Is that in order ?

Madam Speaker : To answer the last question first, it is perfectly in order. As the hon. Gentleman knows--I have made the point that he is a long-standing Member of the House--it is for Ministers, not the Speaker, to determine whether statements should be made by means of an answer to a written question or by an oral statement at the Dispatch Box. I have no authority in such matters.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I want to raise an important matter, and it is very much a genuine point of order.

Madam Speaker : I thought that the last one was quite an important matter, too.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : I am sure, but this is an important matter. Last Friday, the House considered the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. After the debate was concluded, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who tabled a question to Ministers about help with the drafting of amendments, received an answer from the Leader of the House saying that amendments tabled on Tuesday 3 May 1994 were drafted by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. That means that all the amendments on paper No. 1295, Consideration of Bill, by four hon. Members--the hon. Members for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), for Sutton and

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Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), for Bristol North -West (Mr. Stern) and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh)--were tabled by parliamentary counsel.

That raises two very important issues for the House. First, in future will all hon. Members have access to parliamentary counsel when they wish to draft amendments ? As I understand it, we are all equal in this House, and you, Madam Speaker, adjudicate on these matters. I want to know whether I and all my hon. Friends have that right.

Secondly, in light of the statement made by the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People in reply to an intervention of mine, when I asked him

"Have he or his Department been in any way involved in the drafting of any of the amendments or the new clause tabled by the hon. Members for Sutton and Cheam",

the Minister said :

"No part whatever in the drafting of any of the amendments and, to the best of my knowledge, nobody in my Department has been involved in the drafting of any amendments in this area."--[ Official Report , 6 May 1994 ; Vol. 242, c. 991.]

That clearly suggests to the House that, if the Minister was not responsible for giving the instruction to parliamentary counsel to draft those amendments, and civil servants were not involved, four Members of this House must have extra-special control and influence over parliamentary counsel in their decision to proceed with the drafting of those amendments.

I wonder whether you, Madam Speaker, would establish who gave that instruction. Was it a Minister ? At least then we will be able to establish where there is consistency in the answer given by the Minister, when I asked him about the arrangements relating to the drafting of those amendments.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) rose

Madam Speaker : Does it relate to the previous point of order ?

Mr. Skinner : Well, it does, yes, but it relates to a slightly different point as well. As you will know, Madam Speaker, a week last Friday, the House carried unanimously a decision calling on the Government to give more parliamentary time to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. The Government seem to have totally ignored that decision. The Minister was completely wrong in his summing up in relation to that resolution. The point about the Standing Order should be drawn to the Minister's attention.

On the Friday in question, the motion that was passed called on the Government to give the Bill time. However, the Minister told us that the reason why the Standing Order was changed was to prevent the Government from giving time. That is totally wrong. The Standing Order was drawn up to stop motions being transferred into Bills and the House sitting over a weekend.

I therefore submit that, on that count as well, the Minister went beyond the Standing Order. That is why I am absolutely convinced that this matter should be brought before the House again.

Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale) : On the same point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : No, I think that I understand the feeling of the House on this matter. The hon. Member for

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Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) raised on Friday a point of order which was barely a point of order, and I answered him then.

However, in response to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell- Savours), I believe that he is mistaken in some respects. Amendments were not tabled by parliamentary counsel. Amendments are tabled by hon. Members. [Interruption.] Just a moment. Hon. Members are, of course, free to ask Ministers for assistance in drafting amendments to Bills. However, if the hon. Member for Workington would allow me to consider precisely what he has said, I should like to look further into it.

Ms Lynne rose

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) rose

Madam Speaker : No, I have dealt with that matter. We will now move on to the Orders of the Day. [Interruption.] Just a moment. I have dealt with the matter raised by the hon. Member for Workington, which I think deals with a number of issues, and I want to look at it. Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam) rose

Madam Speaker : Does it relate to that point, or is it quite different ?

Lady Olga Maitland : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would like to make it abundantly clear that I raise my own amendments. I sought consultation, but it would be totally unfair to suggest that they came from any other source. It seems that disabled people are being used as a political football for political purposes by the Labour party.

Madam Speaker : When I am very tolerant and sympathetic, the House runs into these problems. The hon. Lady has given an explanation. That is not a point of order. I think that we had better move on. Mr. Alfred Morris rose

Madam Speaker : Does the right hon. Gentleman have a point of order that I can deal with, and not an explanation ?

Mr. Morris : Madam Speaker, as you know, I very rarely raise points of order. What concerns me is that it may be necessary, before the outcome of your inquiry, which all of us welcome and appreciate, for a right hon. Member, and perhaps at least one hon. Member, to come to the House to apologise for having made what seem to many of us to have been misleading statements here last Friday.

They purported to make it absolutely clear that they drafted the amendments. We now have it from the Leader of the House of Commons that all 80 amendments that appeared on the Order Paper last Wednesday were drafted by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. They were drafted on Tuesday and tabled on Wednesday in the names of five Conservative Members.

Madam Speaker : I appreciate the point made by the right hon. Gentleman. As I said, I will look into the matter.

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Orders of the Day

Special Educational Needs

3.40 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Mr. Eric Forth) : I beg to move,

That the draft Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs, which was laid before this House on 13th April, be approved.

The code of practice on the identification and assessment of special educational needs has been eagerly awaited in this House and, indeed, in the other place, and by local education authorities, schools, voluntary bodies and all concerned with children with special educational needs--not least parents. If the code is approved by Parliament, it will set the framework for special educational provision for many years to come.

The code of practice springs from the Education Act 1993. Part III of that Act builds on the principles of the Education Act 1981, covering the same sort of matters. It seeks to ensure their more effective application in practice, to the benefit of all children with special educational needs and their parents. There was a clear need to review and revise the 1991 legislative framework--that was agreed by all--and the 1993 Act was the result. Regulations made under the Act and laid before Parliament at the same time as the code embody the detail of the new system.

The code of practice which we are now considering provides guidance to all concerned on the exercise of their duties under the Act and the regulations. Schools and LEAs, health services and social services must have regard to that guidance. The code seeks to create a purposive partnership among those bodies and between them, voluntary organisations and parents on behalf of all children with special educational needs.

Section 157 of the 1993 Act requires the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice. Section 158 requires him to consult upon a draft and to bring a revised draft to Parliament for approval under the affirmative procedure, which is what we are now doing. The draft before us today contains six sections. Part 1 sets out the main principles which inform the code as a whole. Part 2 offers guidance to schools as to how they might fulfil their duties towards pupils with special needs who do not require statements, and lays a particular emphasis on partnership between all concerned. Part 3 deals with statutory assessments--in particular, the time limits for making such assessments, guidance as to when such assessments should be made, and how such assessments should be conducted.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have just had passed down the Bench a letter from the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People--I say this to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris)--in which he repudiates much of what he said last week, and now gives a completely new interpretation of events. In the light of what has happened, I wonder whether you should consider this correspondence, which was literally handed down the Bench moments after you gave your ruling, from the Leader of the House of Commons.

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Madam Speaker : Of course, if the hon. Gentleman lets me have the correspondence, I shall look at it, together with the point of order that he raised earlier.

Mr. Forth : Part IV deals with statements of special educational needs, including the form and content of statements and choosing the right school. Part V covers children under five with special educational needs, and part VI deals with the annual review of statements and transition to adult life. At the end of the draft code, there is an appendix covering transitional arrangements from the 1981 Act to the 1993 Act, a full glossary of terms and an index. The code itself, as presented to Parliament, is bound between a foreword and a copy of the Education (Special Educational Needs) Regulations 1994, neither of which is part of the code itself. The foreword aims to explain the status of the code, and other matters which I shall touch on in a moment. The regulations, together with regulations governing the information that schools must publish, have been formally laid before Parliament alongside the code.

One of the main purposes of the code is to promote partnership. In earnest of that intention, the draft code itself has been developed in partnership. I take this opportunity to pay a tribute to all those who helped us to produce the consultative draft and the draft before us today.

Throughout the process, we have been most fortunate in being able to draw on the help of expert individuals from the voluntary world. We have discussed successive drafts with representatives of the local authority associations and the Society of Education Officers. Senior academics and administrators, teachers and governors have given us their time in commenting on drafts. While I readily take full responsibility for the code and its contents, the production of the code has been a co-operative effort, designed to promote co-operation on behalf of children with special educational needs. I am most grateful to the many individuals and organisations who have helped us.

On a personal note, Madam Speaker, I am happy to acknowledge, pay tribute to and thank my officials in the Department for Education, who have worked tirelessly with dedication and sensitivity to bring the code to fruition and to the House today. Without their work, it would not have been possible.

The revised draft is also the result of extensive consultation. We issued over 30,000 copies of the consultative draft. We attended meetings of teachers, parents, governors, the health services and social services across the country. We received over 1,000 written responses and analysed them closely. I hope that those who took much time and trouble to contribute will consider that their efforts are reflected in the revised draft which is before the House today. The consultation process revealed a general welcome for the principle of issuing such a code and for the main principles of the draft, including the emphasis on the role of parents, the emphasis on pupils who have special needs but who do not require statements, the guidance on when assessments and statements should be made, the emphasis on clear, thorough statements, and the stress on partnership among all agencies.

The consultation also revealed areas of concern. There were calls for greater clarity about the status of the code, about what it means to have regard to the code, and about what will be expected of schools and others when it comes into effect. There were concerns about schools' capacity to

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follow the guidance of the draft code and about the implications for professional development and in-service training. There were important concerns about the draft's coverage of co- operation between the services involved, and about the sources of advice and information available to parents. The revised draft code, read together with the draft foreword, is designed to meet those concerns, and I am confident that it does so.

The new draft foreword explains the code's status. Local education authorities and schools, when fulfilling their functions under part III of the 1993 Act, must have regard to the code. So must any bodies that help them perform those functions--for example, the health services and social services.

The code itself offers wide-ranging guidance. It recommends, for example, that LEAs and schools should adopt a staged approach, matching action to each child's needs, but it is up to the LEAs and schools to decide exactly how they should apply the code's guidance. It is not a prescriptive straitjacket : it is there to help schools and LEAs, and help children with special educational needs. But whenever they, the health services and social services take action on behalf of such children, they must consider what the code says. It is our intention that the code should come into effect on 1 September this year, but we do not expect that all schools will have systems in place at that time which will all match the code's aspirations. We do expect all schools to have regard to the code from that date, and we do expect the effect of their having regard to the code to develop over time. As I shall explain, we shall be monitoring their progress closely.

During the consultation process, we listened very carefully to what schools had to say. We recognised that they were worried that the code, while admirable in principle, might not be realisable in practice. We recognised, too, that they were worried about pressures on their time, and about bureaucratic burdens.

We have revised the code accordingly. We have made it clear that the way in which schools react to the code will vary in the light of their particular circumstances. We have set out as guidance an example of a staged approach, which we have kept to basic principles and which emphasises the importance of gathering information at stage 1, developing individual education plans at stage 2 and consulting outside experts at stage 3. I hope that schools will welcome these changes, and that the code now represents an effective and feasible way forward.

We recognise, too, that schools and LEAs will need to think carefully, in the light of the code, about how they manage money to secure maximum benefit for pupils with special educational needs. Substantial sums are already available, and I believe that the code will ensure that they are put to best use.

LEAs, for example, will wish to give careful thought to how the funding allocated to them is distributed to schools. That is a matter for the LEAs themselves, but the code should help those who wish to do so to introduce moderated audit schemes reflecting the numbers of pupils with special educational needs in schools.

Schools themselves will wish to think hard about how they use the money they receive, whether allocated by audit schemes or by proxy measures. Schools' SEN policies must set out the principles by which funds are

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allocated to and amongst pupils with special educational needs, and their annual reports must tell parents how the money has been used. The consultative draft emphasised partnership. I hope that the revised draft reinforces that message. Part II contains new material on the way in which the health services should be organised to help children with special educational needs. Nowhere is partnership more important than in providing help for children with speech and language difficulties.

To help to develop that partnership further, my Department and the Department of Health will jointly make available £50,000 in this financial year to back a development project designed to maximise the use of speech therapists' time. The results will be widely disseminated.

There is new material, too, on SEN support services. The development of the role of the named person, who can help parents in all their dealings with LEAs, is also a new incentive for voluntary organisations to become directly involved in the process.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : Will the resources available to the speech therapy service be related to the number of children whose special needs have been formally recorded ?

Mr. Forth : Not in the direct sense that the hon. Gentleman suggests, or requests. Given the way in which speech therapy is delivered and the way in which the needs of children, for example, are identified, I do not believe that one can make that direct comparison.

Obviously, the Department for Education and those responsible for speech therapy services--my colleagues in the Department of Health and their agencies--will want always to be satisfied that the number of speech therapists is adequate to the need. I think that I am right in saying that, given the increase in the number of speech therapists nationally in the past few years, we can have some confidence that that will be the case. It is one of the things that will be monitored. I should like to come back to that point later. My remarks might help to answer the hon. Gentleman's question.

Partnership with parents is a vital aspect of each part of the code. We have placed in the Library a draft of the guide for parents, which we intend to issue and distribute very widely alongside the code. We are backing our commitment to partnership by making some £3.5 million support available through grants for education, support and training for LEAs to develop parent partnership schemes. I am delighted to say that every LEA has bid for and received funding for such schemes this financial year.

I have outlined just some of the changes that we have made in the light of the consultative process. We recognise, of course, that more is needed if the code is to effect change. If its messages are to have a real impact, training and professional development, energetic dissemination, and careful monitoring will be essential.

Paragraph 2 :26 of the code recognises the importance of in-service training. References are made to the training needs of all teaching staff, non-teaching staff, SEN co-ordinators and governors. Under the new special educational needs information regulations, a school's SEN

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policy must describe the school's training plans. Funding of almost £10 million in 1994-95 will be available for this purpose through grant for education support and training.

GEST funding will also be available for the development of schools' SEN policies, for the professional development of SEN co-ordinators and for governor training. In February, I announced a £2 million increase in the support available in 1994-95 through the wholly new GEST grant 23-- giving a total of some £5.6 million. With separate financial support from my Department, the Council for Disabled Children and the university of London institute of education are preparing a distance learning pack to help schools develop policies. That pack should be available early in the autumn.

Subject to Parliament's approval, the code will be published next month. It will be distributed promptly to all schools and other interested parties. With the help of the Council for Disabled Children and the National Children's Bureau, we shall then launch a major dissemination exercise at conferences that we have arranged up and down the country.

I am delighted to report that the local authority associations and the Society for Education Officers will join us in that exercise. Other organisations such as the National Association for Special Educational Needs have taken their own most welcome initiatives in arranging conferences to get the message across.

I now turn to monitoring. Registered inspectors will carefully examine schools' SEN policies and their implementation in the light of the code. The Office for Standards in Education's special educational needs team will devote particular attention to the code. It will look, for example, at the impact of special educational needs support services.

The Audit Commission, which already monitors LEAs' performance in making assessments and statements, will have its vital role to play. There may well be a role, as appropriate, for the research community. We will draw all this information together and, of course, keep Parliament fully informed.

The issue of the code of practice represents a major step forward for special education. The code reflects and builds on the principles of the report of the Committee chaired by Baroness Warnock, the Education Act 1981 and the many positive developments in the field since that Act came into effect.

Importantly, the code also reflects good practice in schools and LEAs across the country. It is challenging, but it is realistic. I hope that it will receive the support not only of the House but of all concerned with special educational needs throughout the country. I hope that it will represent a quantum leap forward in the provision for special educational needs.

3.54 pm

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) : First, I reiterate what the Minister has heard me say before--we welcome the code of practice. We only wish that the Government had introduced other major pieces of legislation in a similar way. From the beginning, when they were challenged in Committee about how the new processes would work, Ministers were heard to say, "That will be a matter for the code of practice," or, "That is too difficult to answer now, but we will look into it when we draw up the code of practice."

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In all fairness, great efforts have been made behind the scenes to ensure that, by and large, the code meets the problems and concerns raised in Committee. It is also obvious that, having issued the draft code, the Government listened to representations they received during consulta-tion as changes have been made and have further improved the code.

I therefore hope that, despite the fact that I shall concentrate on remaining matters for concern and potential problems, some of which could be fundamental, the House will not doubt that we welcome the code as a significant and important step forward in dealing with children's special educational needs.

The code is the most recent in a long line of decisions taken by Ministers, starting with my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who instituted the Warnock committee which brought about the Education Act 1991. The code of practice is another landmark decision.

I hope that the Government will accept that I am raising concerns that many organisations have pointed out to me, and other matters about which I am worried.

My first concern is about training, which is at the heart of whether the code will be successful. The Government have already listened to concerns about the role of the special educational needs co-ordinator and the fact that we should not place so much responsibility on that person or persons in any school.

We also welcome the funding that is made available through grants for education support and training--GEST--and the fact that the Government have been careful to ensure that provision will be made for the training of special educational needs co-ordinators and all staff, whether teaching or non-teaching, and governors.

Some aspects still worry me, however. For example, the Minister referred to paragraph 2 :26 of the code, which is found on page 12, but its description of what might happen is the wrong way round. The end of the paragraph states :

"A school contemplating a particular special educational needs in-service training programme may wish to inform itself of the LEA's in-service training policy and may also wish to consult other schools in the area with a view to securing economies of scale and sharing expertise."

It should not be an option. Each local education authority, in concert with all the schools, should draw up the necessary in-service training plans. Training should not be optional : it should be something that all schools and the LEAs are involved in from the beginning.

Over the years, the actual requirement for teachers to have expertise in and knowledge of special education has diminished. I believe that the current Education Bill, which will be considered in Committee from tomorrow, will cause further problems, because it will be difficult to ensure that new teachers receive the range of expertise during school-based teacher training that will be required if the code is to be implemented successfully. The code demands that all teachers should be special education teachers.

I welcome the money that the Government are making available for training, developing partnerships with parents and ensuring that governors are aware of their responsibilities. What about the special needs co-ordinator ? In most schools, the person undertaking that job will be performing a new specific, additional role. That person must be rewarded for that.

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In the early years of the working of the code, I can envisage that, in some large comprehensive schools, it might be necessary to appoint several special needs co-ordinators. In the short term, as the code begins to operate effectively and picks up children with special needs and ensures that those needs are met, more money must be made available for that purpose.

The Government have said that, in the next few years, they expect that more children will be statemented. In the short term, therefore, significant additional funds will be required to ensure that the code is introduce effectively and the needs of children are properly met. In the long term, however, as those needs are picked up earlier, as should happen under the code, I am sure that number of statements made will fall.

On page 10 of code, paragraph 2.15 refers to the work of the special needs co-ordinator and what schools might need to do to ensure that that job is done properly. It is worrying to note that that requirement is considered in the context of the resources available to schools. That is one of the issues that has bedevilled the provision of special needs since 1981. Very often, parents and local educational authorities have been involved in a battle royal over provision because of fears about costs. I fear that that could happen again, even though the code has been introduced.

When the Minister appeared before the Select Committee on Education, he was questioned about the monitoring of the code. He believed that such monitoring would be carried out by parents, governors, LEA inspectors, OFSTED and the special educational needs tribunal. Governors and LEAs might, however, become more concerned with keeping spending within limits rather than the effective implementation of the code. OFSTED inspectors will usually visit schools in a four-year cycle, which is hardly sufficient for monitoring that code. That means that monitoring will be left to parents and the SEN tribunal. It is clear that parents will need help.

The Department for Education has given OFSTED a monitoring remit to offer advice in the run-in period, but I believe that it should be given a further remit to carry out monitoring beyond the scope for which it has the resources at the moment. In other words, OFSTED should have a stronger remit than the four-yearly assessment of schools, in connection with the implementation of the code of practice in its early years. The Government have said that they intend to review what local education authorities are

doing--considering how long statements take to be made and so on--and I should be interested to hear more about the precise way in which that will work.

There is a danger of disputes arising between schools and LEAs, because, although the Government are making, and have made, great efforts to develop partnerships between parents and schools and schools and LEAs, there could be disputes between the school and the LEA about the five-stage system and the criteria for assessment. For example, if the schools and the LEAs have not agreed on the respective means for operating the five-stage system-- which, I am pleased to say, does not have to be mechanically followed-- there can be an agreement between the two, but there is a danger of an LEA saying to a school : "We are not happy with the way in which you have gone through the stages, or your adaptation of the stages, before coming to us and requesting an assessment." I hope that that danger can be tackled.

In addition, there could be a grey area between what the school is expected to provide from its resources and what

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