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Clause 1

Volume 21: debated on Friday 2 April 1982

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Children's Homes To Which The Act Applies

2.7 pm

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 5, leave out from 'if' to end of line 10 and insert

'the school provides accommodation for fifty children or less and is not for the time being approved by the Secretary of State under section 11(3)(a) of the Education Act 1981.'.

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 2.

Before I speak briefly to the amendment I should like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter), who has been involved in the passage of the Bill. Anything that I say this afternoon has nothing to do with the aims of the Bill. The purpose is purely and simply to ensure that certain repercussions do not take place. They are repercussions that were not intended when the Bill was drafted originally or when it was dealt with in Committee. But later it was realised that for certain schools the Bill would have repercussions that were not intended by the promoter.

The main purpose of the Bill is to ensure that establishments providing homes for children in the care of local authorities are required to meet adequate standards. That is a commendable aim, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that the Bill has proceeded with Government aid and support. However, the Bill will have two effects that were not intended. The great purpose of the Report stage is to enable advantage to be taken of the wisdom on each side of the Chamber. It gives an opportunity for the Bill to be analysed and to find out whether it will have repercussions or effects that were not intended.

The Bill, as it stands, will affect establishments the main business of which is education rather than child care, but to which it is very advantageous for children in care to go. If the establishments concerned were tied to the restrictions set out in the Bill, some might decide not to take any more children in care, because it would mean having inspections and having to make large payments. Their reaction would be to say "We are already full and there is no point in taking in any more children". These are the larger independent boarding schools.

We have carefully worded the amendment to bring in only the small schools. The large schools are already well known. They are very much in the public eye. If there had been objections by parents or local authorities, these would have come to light. The amendment exempts those boarding schools, which may also have day pupils, where there are more than 50 boarders. On the information that is available to the Government, and certainly to me, the large boarding schools will often take from local authorities and elsewhere individual pupils who need special attention. They are integrated into the school.

These schools are subject to inspection by Her Majesty's inspectors. From time to time, schools of that type——

I do not pretend that I am not surprised that the amendment has been moved at this late stage. I understand that these schools are inspected. However, they are inspected under particular Education Acts. Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the exemption means that children are still protected under existing legislation? We are, after all, talking about children in care.

2.15 pm

Once the Bill becomes law, taken with regulations that we shall issue under the Education Act 1981, Her Majesty's inspectors will be aware of the situation. One of the problems in Government is that a Department can produce proposals without realising that other Departments are affected. All independent schools are subject to Government registration. They cannot establish themselves without it. I respect the hon. Lady's convictions and honesty. There is no dispute over the facts.

Her Majesty's inspectors examine whether places are suitable for children. Inspectors in the future will be aware that the schools take the children that she has described. One of the aims is to put these children in places where they can be integrated and fit into society.

The hon. Member for Hartlepool and the hon. Lady will, I am sure, agree with me. Some schools are likely to take only one or two of the children a year as boarders. If they are subject to a thorough inspection under the Bill the cost of which can reach £700, their response will be to say that they will take no more children.

It is my honest belief—I am not speaking from a departmental brief—that the schools will take no more children because of the problems involved. It will not be worth while. This will not help to integrate the children in society. Upon that I rest my case. It is not the intention to wreck the Bill. However, we do not want anything in the Bill to restrict the achievements that are now being made. The intention of the Bill is to make things better and not worse.

The second question relates to the overlap between two Departments. I took through the House what became the Education Act 1981. The Bill as it stands will bring within inspection a block of 170 independent schools that specialise in special education. Yet last year there was a Bill to bring them in. They will be subject to control under the 1981 Education Act. I hope that what I say will satisfy the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) who listens carefully to every word that I say, as does the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter), the sponsor of the Bill, about our genialness of temperament. Of course, I do not deny the same genialness of temperament to the hon. Lady.

I have no doubt about that. It is a pleasure to be speaking to the hon. Lady, as well as to the sponsor of the Bill.

The 1981 Education Act stated that before any school could take children with special education needs it would have to receive the approval of the Department of Education and Science. That means that it will have to be inspected. There will be an inspection structure for these 170 independent schools, and they will be brought under control by last year's legislation. A local authority will not be able to send a child with a statement of special education need to any of these schools unless they have been approved by the Secretary of State.

All sorts of notes are being passed to me. I do not really understand them, but I am sure that they will be useful in the long run. I shall use them for my weekend reading in church, particularly as it is Lent. I can circulate them in private correspondence later.

This year we have to issue regulations under which inspections may be made of institutions which children with special education needs can attend. We are putting them into operation for the year 1982–83, so there will be no delay. When the regulations are drawn up, we shall consult the Department of Health and Social Security. It is ridiculous to have two sets of inspection procedures. I accept that the people doing the inspections are not the same. I assure all hon. Members that the regulations will be drawn up in consultation with the Department of Health and Social Security in such a way that they will fulfil the purposes of the Bill. As I have said, it would be ridiculous to have two separate inspections at public expense. I therefore ask the House to accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.