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6.31 pm

Mr. Timms: I listened with great interest to many of the points that have been made and shall attempt to respond to as many as I can in the few minutes available.

Although I know that the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) is new to her Front-Bench role, I am sorry that she chose to attempt to score some party points. I do not think that that approach will commend itself to people of all parties or of none who follow the debate. Her attempt was ill-judged. I am glad, however, that some serious points were made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I shall try to respond to them.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest mentioned a U-turn. In closing our debate in July, I emphasised that I would reflect on the points that had been made on quantification. We have made changes accordingly. I should have thought that she would welcome them, as she sort of did. Nevertheless, we have retained in this draft code almost all the advice that was included in the June draft.

Mrs. Laing: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Timms: I shall do so only briefly as I do not have much time to reply to the other points that have been made.

Mrs. Laing: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I should like to clarify that I most certainly welcome the proposals and congratulate him on his courage in coming back to the House and making them.

Mr. Timms: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention.

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I agreed with much of what the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) said, and I should like particularly to join in his tribute to Lord Rix. The hon. Gentleman has long followed the issue, and he has made a very substantial contribution not only in relation to education but to other aspects of the Government's work on the issue.

The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members legitimately expressed concerns about funding for inclusion. I emphasise that we have made great progress on that front in recent years. In 1996–97, for example, funding for the schools access initiative, which is intended to improve accessibility for people with disabilities to mainstream schools, amounted to £10 million; this year, it amounts to £50 million; next year, it will increase to £70 million, and the year after to £100 million. The sums for investment in improving access to mainstream schools have increased very substantially. Furthermore, in 1996–97, the special educational needs element of the standards fund was £24 million; this year, it is £82 million.

We are seeing unprecedented increases in spending on education not only this year, but next year and the year after. Moreover, a substantial chunk of those extra resources will be spent on meeting concerns that have been expressed in this debate. The total size of the inclusion block in the current financial year is £330 million, much of which is delegated to schools. So, although it is right to express concerns about resources in our debate, I emphasise that we have made great progress and that more progress will be made next year and the year after.

The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough was also concerned about funding for parent partnership and disagreement resolution services. We envision that those duties on local education authorities will, as intended, come into force on 1 January. In the current financial year, LEAs have been able to use their standards fund allocation for SEN to establish those services in advance of the legal obligation to do so. From next financial year, however, as they will be a statutory duty, funding will be provided using the usual SSA system. Given the increase that LEAs will receive next year, we hope that those duties will be carried out effectively.

Various hon. Members expressed concerns about special schools. I emphasise that inclusion does not amount to a drive to close special schools. I thought that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough made that point well. There will of course continue to be changes to local provision to reflect local circumstances. Those are decisions that will be made locally either by local school organisation committees or by the adjudicator, as has always been the case. However, as we made clear in the debates on the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, we do not envisage that the size of the special school sector will change dramatically. The latest figures on pupil numbers support that belief. Indeed, 42 special schools have opened since May 1997. I therefore think that there is some confusion on that issue.

Mrs. Laing: What plans do the Government have to stop the closure of special schools that are under threat? Does he know how many are under threat of closure?

Mr. Timms: As I said, those are matters for local decision. There will undoubtedly have to be changes in

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some areas in response to local circumstances, just as there has been a need for new schools to be opened. Indeed, some new schools have opened.

It is not true either that the code is written only for mainstream schools. It provides guidance for all maintained schools, including maintained special schools. We have encouraged all special schools to become centres of excellence, as we were urged to do in this debate. I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough to the example of Norfolk Park school, in Sheffield, which is highlighted in the inclusion guidance as a very good example of what he was calling for and of what we are starting to see.

The hon. Members for Harrogate and Knaresborough and for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) asked about the status of statements and whether they are mandatory. The answer is that they are mandatory. If a statement is not delivered, the LEA is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the provision in a statement is made. I hope that that makes the position very clear.

Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): That may not apply to under-fives. One of my younger constituents, Francesca Norman, is entitled to five sessions per week but is being provided with only three by Kent county council. Can my hon. Friend give any hope to the parents of under-fives that their children will have the same entitlement as other children?

Mr. Timms: Certainly the concern about the early identification of special educational needs is an increasingly important theme. Consequently, we have announced extra funding to help LEAs in their early years development and child care partnerships to improve local provision for young children, and we have a working party joining different agencies together to develop guidance for health and education practitioners on a coherent approach to the early identification of needs and the provision of support. I certainly should expect my hon. Friend's constituent and many other people to start to benefit from that. In response to his specific question, the code does apply to under-fives.

Mr. Gale: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Timms: I cannot give way, given the late stage of the debate. I was asked what we were doing about special educational needs co-ordinators—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16.

Question agreed to.


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Liaison Committee

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Before I call the Leader of the House to move the motion on the Liaison Committee, I should announce that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the leader of the Liberal Democrats.

6.40 pm

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): I beg to move,

I need not detain the House for long because I imagine—I hope not wrongly—that it is common ground across the House that we want the Liaison Committee set up, and that is the purpose of the motion. Only a couple of weeks ago, I received a letter signed by many of the Chairs of the new Select Committees urging us to make progress in setting up the Liaison Committee. I responded to that in the motion that is before the House.

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For myself, I did not need urging to set up the Liaison Committee. I am keen to see it in existence soon. One of the reasons for that is that the Modernisation Committee is making good progress towards a report to the House on Select Committees and their valuable role in scrutiny. Obviously, we cannot hope to complete that report until we have a Liaison Committee from which we can take evidence on our proposals.

Perhaps I can say a couple of words about the terms of the motion. First, the motion takes the form of listing the 32 Select Committees that are relevant to the Liaison Committee and stating that the Chairs of those Select Committees will be members of the Liaison Committee.

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