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Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I would like to pay tribute, through you, to the parliamentary clerk in the Ministry of Agriculture, who has assisted Ministers in producing, throughout a very busy time, many outstanding answers to written questions that I have tabled. However, a number remain unanswered, and I would like to reinforce, through you, the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) for an opportunity for all questions to be answered in advance of any Dissolution or recess.
Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am glad that the Minister of Agriculture is still in his place. My experience is exactly the same: I had many priority written questions on matters of great importance to my constituents, relating to foot and mouth disease, down for answer before the recess. A week after the recess, I have still received only holding answers to all those questions. Is there anything that I can do to encourage the Ministry to give my constituents the information that they so desperately need?
Mr. Speaker: I heard some mutterings and it is understandable that those who were not called are disappointed. However, on several occasions, I have asked the Minister to come to the House to make a statement and, indeed, have kept him at the Dispatch Box for over an hour and a half. Today he was here for well over an hour, and I must give some consideration to other business before the House. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's point, I assure him that notes are taken and those who were not called today and were disappointed will not be disappointed next time.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I take the matter a step further? You will recall that before the recess, I pointed out that the Prime Minister himself had indicated that he was taking personal charge of the foot and mouth crisis because it went across all Departments. Indeed, from the answers given by the Minister of Agriculture this afternoon it is apparent that a number of issues are the responsibility of other Departments. Is there any way, Mr. Speaker, that you could make representations to ensure that the Prime Minister himself came to the House, not for a debate which, frankly, would be of lesser use, but simply to answer the questions that some of us want to ask about interdepartmental responsibilities?
'In the 1996 Act insert the following section--
The new clause is meant as a probing amendment, which the Royal National Institute for the Blind and Sense were keen to have debated on Report. They want to highlight the need for mobility and independence education for visually impaired and multi-sensory impaired children to be treated as, I underline, a special educational provision, which must be provided by local education authorities if specified in a statement, rather than as a form of non-educational provision that LEAs may arrange. The RNIB and Sense want the revised code of practice on special educational needs to set out clearly that important principle.
Visually impaired children and children with multi- sensory impairment experience huge problems getting around safely and confidently and, more generally, in understanding and negotiating their environment. Aspects of self-care, such as grooming, dressing and cooking, may present huge challenges. Addressing those needs is an essential part of the children's education and must start from the earliest possible age to maximise future independence. The new clause therefore refers to section 331 of the Education Act 1996, which deals with the assessment of the under-twos. Even at that young age, children need to be encouraged and motivated to explore their immediate environment safely and to move around it confidently.
Mobility and independence education is fundamental to visually impaired and multi-sensory impaired children's access to education. Put simply, if children cannot find their way around their classroom or school safely and confidently, and if they are not given the practical skills that they need to move around safely in the playground and participate fully in physical education and drama classes, they cannot be said to be included. Furthermore, if children are denied the opportunity to learn self-care skills such as dressing and grooming, they cannot be said to be receiving an education appropriate to their needs.
The latest RNIB research, detailed in "Shaping the Future", which was published in 2000, shows that nearly two in three pupils attending specialist schools for blind and partially sighted pupils have received mobility education, but that fewer than one in three visually impaired pupils in mainstream schools have received mobility and independence education. One in 20 16 to 25-year-olds of average learning ability have no mobility education, but would have liked to have had it. Moreover, when such education is provided, there is evidence that it is treated as a marginal element of the curriculum, which is not in the spirit of the commitment of the Department for Education and Employment to fully inclusive education. Only three out of 117 pupils who had had mobility education had it built into their timetables.
As a result, one in three mainstream secondary pupils said that they felt left out of some classroom activities; more than one in four said that there were school clubs and activities in which they would have liked to participate, but had not done so, and of that proportion one in six said that that was due to their sight difficulty. Moreover, lack of mobility education was found to be one reason why blind and partially sighted children and young people are less likely than their sighted peers to travel independently and confidently. Lack of self-confidence in travelling was an issue for six in 10 primary school pupils, more than one in three secondary school pupils and four in 10 16 to 25-year-olds.
As well as training starting at an early age, it is vital that children receive it consistently and for as long as they need it to prepare for adult independence. Tackling those problems is central to the Government's goal of ensuring that inclusion in mainstream education is a more realistic and effective option for children with sensory impairment. As things stand, mainstream placements are clearly not delivering mobility and independence education consistently or effectively to sensorily impaired children.
Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): I am attracted to my hon. Friend's proposal, but it would be nice to think that it was not necessary. Does he agree that independence education of sensorily impaired children is necessary, but that there must also be greater awareness among their peers about how to relate to them? It should be possible to extend the proposal to include the peers and classmates of children with sensory impairments.
Mr. Griffiths: I agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, specialist teachers, to whom I referred earlier, and who maintain close contact with teachers and others in the classroom, should try to ensure that the whole class and school appreciate the tremendous problems of sensorily impaired children. I experienced those problems a week or so ago in Westminster Hall, when I had a brief go with a blindfold and a guide dog.