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Mr. Willis: I accept the hon. Gentleman's point, and agree with him wholeheartedly. That is one of the reasons why we might vote against the code. We are uneasy about it and particularly about those provisions. I shall come to them shortly.
Several provisions in the code must be strengthened. Although we welcome chapter 10 on "Working in partnership with other agencies", the language in it is so loose that it beggars belief. For example, paragraph 10.16 contains the ideas that Connexions should be involved with young people particularly from key stage 4 onwards, and no one would disagree with that. However, schools and local authorities have no control over Connexions and, in this paragraph, the Government optimistically say that the Learning and Skills Council and local education authorities should work together. Frankly, the council, which the Government set up, and the LEAs are at odds with each other and, unless the code clarifies how the council and LEAs will work together to provide for youngsters aged between 14 and 19, those youngsters will fall through the bottom again as they have done for so long.
I come to a point made by the hon. Member for Islington, North. One of the key issues in getting the provision right is for LEAs to have some control over admission rights. The comments of the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, who speaks for the Conservative party, were a bit rich because his party went into the last election saying that it wanted 24,000 separate admission arrangements. Each school would have been able to deny access to children with special needs if it so wished. It is sad that Conservative Members have not admitted that that was a huge mistake although I accept that the hon. Gentleman has distanced himself from that policy by supporting an appropriate candidate.
Controlling admission levels is important. It appears that the White Paper will allow private companies to take over schools, private schools to take over state schools and companies for profit to take over schools, so how will we be able to control admission arrangements then? How will be able to ensure that the code of practice is binding on all those organisations? The Minister did not respond to that point adequately earlier, but I hope that he will clarify the position. At the moment, everything is up in the air. If we are saying that only bog standard schools will have to admit children with special needs, we are going back 20 years and before these arguments were even raised.
Liberal Democrats welcome the enhanced roles for LEAs. We are delighted that the code of practice clearly states their responsibilities. We are also delighted that the Minister has made it clear in the code that individual education plans should be crisp. In the school that I came from 400 youngsters were on the special needs register. If every one of them had had an individual education plan for 10 subjects that would have meant that 4,000 pieces
Paragraphs 8.36 and 8.37 are the key to the code of practice. It is totally unacceptable to produce a new code saying that we do not need to quantify what is in the statements. The key issue in the past 20 years has been that successive Governments have said, "This is what your child needs as a special needs statement, but we will not quantify what they will actually receive." A statement may say that a child needs language therapy, but it does not have to make it clear whether it will be given for one week, every week, every month or once a year. The position is never clarified in that sense. The previous Secretary of State, now the Home Secretary, made it clear on Second Reading of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill that quantification would be clarified, and it is a betrayal of the House and of youngsters that that has not happened. There is much about the code of practice that we support. There is also much that we want to support, but the key issue of quantification has not been addressed and for that reason we will vote against the motion.
At the beginning of this Parliament, I viewed this occasion as one to be planned without due haste and decided to absorb some of the customs and practices of this place before embarking on my 10-minute voyage. However, such has been the quality of the maiden speeches by my new colleagues, who now have that first notch on their guns, that I decided that the absorption of customs and procedures I have managed to achieve so far would have to be enough. I shall therefore proceed without further delay, lest a bravura performance by another colleague prove impossible to follow.
Before addressing the substance of the debate, I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Keith Darvill. During the past four years, when he was the first Labour Member of Parliament for Upminster, he worked assiduously on behalf of his constituents and was held in high regard and affection by all sections of the community. The election campaign was fought, as it should be, on policies rather than personalities and with courtesy and good humour. The fact that we are able to serve on the same school governing body illustrates the spirit in which the campaign was conducted and I wish him and his family well.
Before that, from 1982 until 1997, Upminster was represented by Sir Nicholas Bonsor. He was Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and a distinguished former Army officer who earned a formidable reputation in both capacities during the war in Bosnia. His was a familiar face on our television screens in news bulletins at that time.
For the benefit of hon. Members who are not familiar with Upminster it is, famously, at the end of the District line, at the eastern boundary of Greater London and the county of Essex. In fact, Havering, of which Upminster forms a part, is 50 per cent. green belt, and in that respect has more in common with Essex than with inner-London boroughs.
Upminster is special in that it is a constituency of great contrasts. Its outer-lying areas are very rural, with scattered properties and farms. Indeed, one of the earliest cases of foot and mouth disease in the current epidemic was identified on an Upminster farm only 1 mile away from the abattoir at Little Warley where the disease was first discovered. Several other farms were also slaughtered out as a result. Hon. Members will be all too aware of the distressing circumstances and the long-term anxiety caused to farmers who are worried about their livelihoods as that crisis continues.
The village of North Ockendon has an important claim to fame in that a 17th-century inhabitant, William Coys, created modern beer by using hops instead of malt and water, which made the earlier drink known as wort. I imagine there are many who have cause to thank him for that discoverygoing out for a wort and curry on a Friday night would not have the same popular appeal.
In the north of the constituency lies a large post-war housing estate, Harold Hill, which is well designed with plenty of green space and trees. Despite various regeneration projects in the past decade, much more remains to be done in the more deprived parts of Harold Hill to increase employment opportunities and improve living standards.
The loss of one third of their uniformed constables over the past four years has not helped the police in their task of protecting the law-abiding majority from the effects of crime in the area. I have lost count of how many local people have told me that they want a strong visible police presence in their neighbourhood, and I shall miss no opportunity to call for a substantial increase in police numbers so that they can respond to the demands made upon them.
Upminster also comprises the town of Cranham, where Sir James Oglethorpe MP lived in the hall. He became an important 18th-century celebrity when his attempts at penal reform for debtors led him to be involved in the founding of the state of Georgia, USA. The town of Upminster is mentioned in the Domesday book as having 39 inhabitants, rather fewer than the current figure. It now boasts as one of its town centre landmarks a fine example of a smock mill, which is currently in need of funding for its restoration. Emerson Park is the most prosperous part of the constituency and has many large, desirable properties. Harold Wood grew from a small halt on the Great Eastern railway into a large, pleasant residential area, which now includes the only hospital in the constituency.
Its proximity to London and the M25 make Upminster ideal commuter territory. The local economy also relies on 5,000 shops and small businesses. They compete successfully, despite the burden of over-regulation, with the larger neighbouring centres of Romford and Lakeside. Council tax has increased by almost 50 per cent. over the last four years, and Upminster has had the third highest increase in the country this year. The formula used to calculate Government grant does not favour Upminster. It includes such factors as the number of houses in multiple occupation, the number of ethnic minorities and unemployment levels. None of those features very prominently and, as a result, the widening gap between grant and spending requirements has to be bridged annually by ever higher council tax. Upminster residents are being bled white.
The schools in Upminster are popular and attract many families, including my own, to live there. The only complaints about education that I received while campaigning were from parents who were unable to find a place for their children at the school of their choice. Many are over-subscribed, including comprehensive, single-sex, denominational and grant-aided schools, and two excellent special schools, Ravensbourne and Corbets Tey. That demonstrates the demand by parents for choice in education, including special education.
Having spent 12 years working in a special school, I know that it is impossible to generalise about special needs pupils. The school catered for physically handicapped and delicate childrenterms that have long since fallen out of use, but which in the 1970s and 1980s covered a wide spectrum of need. Some of those pupils, with medical problems such as diabetes, epilepsy, heart conditions and even asthma and eczema, would probably have benefited from mainstream education, with the appropriate support. They certainly flourished in the small classes and protected environment that the school provided.
There were, however, others with very disabling conditions, some quite rare, who I think would have experienced extreme difficulty in mainstream schooling, and whose families would have missed the support mechanism that a special school is able to provide. I recall one pupil who arrived, aged five, in his mother's arms, in baby clothes, with a dummy in his mouth. He had Freeman Sheldon syndrome, a rare condition of multiple skeletal deformities, and was not expected to walk or achieve any degree of independence. He quickly developed into a child of cheerful disposition, with high intelligence and a wry sense of humour, who went on not just to walk but at 21 to gain a degree in computer science at London universitya tribute, I believe, to the special school that was able to cater for his needs.
Of course, inclusion has merit for many special needs pupilsthose who are able to participate and achieve in, and enjoy, that environmentbut we cannot have total inclusion. The need for special schools will continue for those pupils who, for a variety of reasons, need the protected environment and specialist provision that only a special school can provide. I had to look pretty hard in the code of practice for references to special schools, and there were not many. Their role should not be underestimated, and I hope that they may rely on inclusion in the choices made available to special needs pupils.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) for drawing to my attention the concerns of the Wiltshire Dyslexia Society on two counts. The first is the failure of the code of practice to require statemented pupils' special needs to be quantified, which has already been mentioned by several speakers. That leads to the obvious concern that adequate funding will not be provided to meet those unquantified needs, which may influence mainstream schools' willingness to accept those pupils.
Secondly, the code of practice requires individual education plans to focus on only three to four targets. Given that some pupils have complex needs, that limitation could lead to some important needs being overlooked. I would have much more confidence in the capacity of the code of practice to make proper provision