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Handicapped Children (School Admissions)

Volume 982: debated on Tuesday 1 April 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if it is proposed to give the parents of handicapped children the same rights and duties over school admissions and an appeals procedure as are contained for ordinary children in the present Education (No. 2) Bill.

The Government are concerned to ensure that parents of handicapped children should be fully involved in decisions affecting the education of their children. In his statement to the House on 3 March, my right hon. and learned Friend referred to the Government's intention to deal with these matters in future legislation. I am also pleased to inform the House that since then the Government have in another place introduced an amendment to the Education (No. 2) Bill extending to handicapped children the provisions of clause 8(5) relating to the publication of information.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, but is he aware that parents of handicapped children have become a little cynical about the promises of successive Governments? They have had promises for a change in legislation for a long time. What is needed is positive action. What happened in the House of Lords is a step in the right direction, but can my hon. Friend assure us that the Government will proceed with measures to put that into effect as soon as possible?

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. The Gov- ernment propose to publish a White Paper in the early summer outlining proposals for legislation, which will come about as soon as possible. It is intended in that legislation to give parents of handicapped children the same rights regarding information, consultation and appeal as exist for other children under the Education (No. 2) Bill. We hope that such legislation will be on the statute book at the same time as the Education (No. 2) Bill.

Does the Minister accept that the main worry of parents of handicapped children concerns facilities? Will he make clear to education authorities that, whatever other cutbacks there may be in public expenditure, there should not be any in regard to facilities for handicapped children?

I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman's opinions will be echoed on both sides of the Chamber, namely, that whatever measures we have to take at a time of economic stringency, the needs of handicapped children should he given the highest priority.

Is my hon. Friend aware that some of my hon. Friends warmly welcome the amendment that has been tabled following the late-night debate in the other place, and particularly the impassioned pleas by Lord Vaizey and others that handicapped children should have the same educational facilities as other children? Will my hon. Friend give the House a firm assurance not only that the Government will seek to build on that development but that, following the point made by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley), facilities for the handicapped will be improved year by year?

I am sure that everyone agrees with my hon. Friend. We hope to propose in the White Paper to give the same rights of consultation, appeal and involvement to parents of handicapped children, which is desired strongly by both sides of the House. We hope that legislation for handicapped and other children will come on to the statute book at about the same time.

Does the Minister agree that there is genuine concern on both sides of the House that the provisions in clauses 6 to 9 of the Education (No. 2) Bill do not apply to handicapped pupils? Given that on Report the Minister gave many assurances, will he explain why, in another place, the amendment accepted by the Government was limited, and why he could not accept an amendment about appeals? Why does he say now that we need further legislation on this matter? Why cannot he accept this in the Education (No. 2) Bill?

I well remember the impassioned feeling in the House on Report. It was felt throughout the Chamber that something should be done to help the parents of handicapped children. My right hon. and learned Friend said on 3 March—and it was said also in another place—that such proposals could not be tagged on to the Bill. There are special requirements on distance and in many other ways, and the intention is to give the same rights wherever possible on appeal, on consultation and on the information that we have already put into the present Bill, which returns to the House tomorrow. It is not an attempt to reduce the rights. We wish to ensure that the rights are such that they can be carried out to give full opportunities to the parents of handicapped children.