Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Boswell: I am grateful for that assurance and I am glad that the Minister is focusing on the issue, but she has said nothing about the frequency of reports. Will she reflect on the need not just to report once on the implementation phase, but to set up machinery for reports at convenient points—annually, or perhaps a little less often—so that the House can keep in focus the success of the policies as they develop? We realise that that will take time.

Jacqui Smith: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will ensure that it is an ongoing report.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire rightly outlined the struggle for disability rights. It is easy to forget when we talk about progress that those rights were not won easily. I pay tribute to him and to other hon. Members who have fought valiantly on behalf of disabled people to ensure that those rights are clearly represented both in policies and in legislation.

My hon. Friend raised points about the relationship between mental health and learning disabilities, and about the mental health White Paper. Most psychiatric disorders are more common among people with learning disabilities than in the general population. A person with a learning disability who has a mental illness should expect to access services and to be treated in the same way as anyone else.

That will require mainstream mental health services to become more responsive, and specialist learning disability services to provide facilitation and support. Clear local protocols should be in place to promote collaboration between specialist learning disability services and specialist mental health services. That work will be facilitated not only by the extra investment that the Government are making available for mental health provision, but by the standards and reforms laid down in the national service framework for mental health.

My hon. Friend strayed a little into mental health legislation. I assure him that, while the Government's proposals in relation to mental health legislation widen the definition of mental disorders, those will be balanced by very tight criteria on detention and compulsory treatment.

The legislation is currently in preparation. We have taken the opportunity to continue discussions with stakeholders and to ensure that in both the Department of Health and the Home Office, the views of stakeholders—the sort of people whom my hon. Friend talked about—are taken on board.

1 Feb 2002 : Column 575

My hon. Friend made a very important point about tackling disability discrimination. It is right to do so not only on moral grounds but because it leads to better services for all of us. Services that discriminate are not good services for anyone. That is an important reason why we need to tackle that discrimination.

My hon. Friend rightly pushed for further progress on delivering enforceable rights for people with disabilities. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), is looking in detail at the disability rights taskforce recommendations which still need to be implemented to determine how to take those forward.

I was pleased that my hon. Friend for North-East Derbyshire mentioned the special educational needs and early years project in his constituency, although I noted his concern that the money was limited to 2003. The significant extra resources that the Government have invested in developing early years provision demonstrate their commitment both to identifying and to dealing with children with special educational needs. I assure my hon. Friend that across government consideration is being given to the means to continue that support as we go into the next spending review period.

My hon. Friend made the important point that being included in a community is partly about having access both to the vote and to democracy. I share his respect for Scope's work to raise that important issue.

The hon. Member for Chesterfield spoke from his background as a teacher—which is my background too—about the progress that has been made on the inclusion of children with disabilities and learning disabilities into mainstream schools. I do not want to introduce an element of discord, but I should point out that the hon. Gentleman is wrong about class sizes. Average class sizes have fallen under Labour.

Paul Holmes: Is the Minister saying that the Government's own figures are incorrect? For children under seven, class sizes have fallen, but for children aged seven to 11 and 11 to 16 class sizes have risen in the past five years.

Jacqui Smith: I do not think that that is right. Average class sizes in all age groups have fallen under Labour.

The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to provide support to enable disabled children to be included in mainstream schools, and the £220 million schools access initiative and other investment in special educational needs is important in that respect. I do not share the hon. Gentleman's negative view about the effect of inclusion on standards in schools. In fact there is quite significant work, much of it sponsored by the Department for Education and Skills and previously the Department for Education and Employment, that demonstrates links between achieving high standards and adopting an inclusive ethos.

On behalf of his constituents, once again the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) referred to the reorganisation of special educational needs provision in Gloucestershire. As he said, we have engaged in this debate on many occasions and I repeat that the Government's plans, policies and investment in special educational needs are certainly not directed at closing special schools, which have received increased investment

1 Feb 2002 : Column 576

under Labour. The hon. Gentleman rightly referred to local decisions on reconfiguration and drew strongly from the Ofsted report into Gloucestershire. That report is available only because the Government considered it important to monitor the activities of local education authorities. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will continue rightly to raise that local issue.

Several hon. Members were concerned about resources. We make no apology for providing an extra £42 million in addition to the £3 billion that is currently spent on learning disability services. Much of the work that is carried out locally by the learning disability partnerships and at a national level by the taskforce and the Government relates to looking at the objectives that we have set ourselves and ensuring that the £3 billion is spent in a way that meets the aspirations of people with learning disabilities—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Daventry twitched so I thought that he wanted to intervene.

Mr. Boswell: For the avoidance of doubt, it was a twitch of assent.

Jacqui Smith: Good. I am glad that we are back to consensus.

The hon. Member for Chesterfield referred to employment. I can assure him that the Government aim to enable more people with learning disabilities to participate in all forms of employment, to undertake paid work whenever possible and to make a valued contribution to the world of work.

We recognise the importance of supported employment as an option for people who are unable to work without support. Last year, we modernised the former supported employment programme which is now workstep. Workstep enables providers to offer tailored support to individuals and their employers and to encourage development in work with progression to working without support where this is right for an individual. We have backed our commitment to this initiative with a further £37.2 million which will be used to help providers modernise their support approaches, encourage more effective use of information and communication technology and increase provision by around 2,000 places.

I touched on the issue of children and adults with profound and multiple learning disabilities in my opening remarks, but I should like to reassure the House that the proposals in "Valuing People" apply not just to the more able but equally to people with learning disabilities. Such people require long-term intensive health care because of their complex disabilities, and they place significant challenges on services. That point is also made in last August's implementation guidance.

When the revised joint investment plans are evaluated, we will ensure that the objectives deliver on the need to ensure that improvements apply equally to all learning-disabled people. I have already mentioned the capital fund's focus on providing additional facilities for those with challenging behaviour. Of course, integrated services for children will be supported in particular by the £60 million that will be made available through the "quality protects" programme, which focuses on developing much better integrated services for disabled children.

Mr. Boswell: On children with profound and multiple learning difficulties in particular, will the Minister

1 Feb 2002 : Column 577

consider and take very seriously the message in the Mencap report, "No Ordinary Life", some of the content of which I found genuinely disturbing? The report perhaps reflects the existence of an even greater problem than constituency experience has led us to believe.

Jacqui Smith: I certainly undertake that, as in the past, we will listen to what Mencap has to say, because it has great expertise in terms of where the problems lie and where developments are needed.

The hon. Member for Chesterfield also mentioned day services. I can assure him that we believe that action on modernising day services and the provision of extra resources must be a priority. According to last August's guidance, the learning disability partnership boards should prepare modernisation programmes by 31 January 2003, which should show the steps needed to achieve modernised services by 2006, with particular reference to existing large day centres. However, it is precisely because we understand the need for bridging finance—for conversions, for example, to ensure that facilities remain available as alternatives are developed—that we have made it available, through the learning disability development fund, to support the modernisation programme.

The hon. Member for Chesterfield also made an important point about the role of primary care and GPs. I can assure him that the taskforce will include a GP, whose presence will enable us to consider many of those issues. It is of course right that significant extra funding for health authorities should also benefit those with learning disabilities, in terms of their primary care needs.

The hon. Member for Tewkesbury made a wide- ranging contribution, part of which I have already dealt with. I agree with him that a disability that is not visible is no less important; in fact, people with such disabilities are in some ways more open to discrimination. We should therefore be aware of the need to listen to the views of users and of those with learning disabilities on how such discrimination impacts on them, so that we can counteract it. Given the concerns that the hon. Gentleman expressed about mental health problems in prisons, he will doubtless welcome the extra Government investment in mental health care in prisons, which will ensure an additional 300 in-reach workers by 2003–04.

The hon. Member for Romford, some of whose comments I have already referred to, mentioned speech and language therapy in particular. I can assure him that

1 Feb 2002 : Column 578

some of the extra funding being made available through education budgets, particularly for special educational needs, is specifically targeted at speech and language therapy. The employment of more speech and language therapists is an important part of the NHS plan, and the use of Health Act flexibilities will enable us to bring together the therapy provided in the health service and the needs in the education service as we have not managed to do before.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not had a response to his letter, and I shall certainly chase that up vigorously when I return to the Department. I welcome the developments in Havering that he outlined, which are designed to make a reality of our proposals.

The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson)—who we are all disappointed to see has now left the Chamber—made some important points. I especially support and commend the work of the Downside Up organisation in exporting good practice from this country to other countries. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we have many social and health care services in this country that do excellent work—and that includes the voluntary sector. Sometimes, when we talk about the challenges and the ways in which we need to improve, we also need to take stock of what we can be proud of, and we should commend the people who do that work.

The hon. Gentleman chided the Government on the use of the term "social exclusion", and perhaps this would be a useful note for me to end on. He challenged me to say what social exclusion meant in the context of people with learning disabilities.

To define social exclusion we need to explain the effects that it has on people, and what we need to do to counter them. For me, social exclusion for people with learning disabilities is when they cannot get access to a proper job, and cannot get on a bus or choose where they want to live. It is when they cannot meet people apart from their families and their carers, and cannot take part in sporting or other leisure activities or make decisions for themselves.

It is in order to tackle those issues and improve the opportunities that we have set out the programme in "Valuing People", and I welcome the commitment that we have heard today from both sides of the House to work to ensure that we make that a reality.

Next Section

IndexHome Page