Tuesday, 10 June 2014


They do things differently there
Or we do things differently here

Extracts from the Christmas Adjournment Debate, 20 December 1989, in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament –

A considerable amount or Parliamentary business was raised.
British businessman Ian Richter still being detained in Iraq, at home a record number of homeless people that Christmas, child and welfare benefits, Manchester's bid for the 1996 Olympic Games, elderly people's savings, the problems of the Ambulance Service, contraction of British Rail leading to job losses, 'the awful happenings in Romania', the US invasion of Panama, widows' pensions, the European fishing quota and inshore fishing, Welsh hill farmers, collapse of Communism in Europe, employment benefits, hospital radio, a national lottery and televising Parliament, environmental matters...

These are typical, big bread-and-butter issues for any democratic legislature in its place and time.

The debate concluded, however, with something less familiar around the world, a topic though that had been enjoying considerable attention in the UK Parliament – Conductive Education. It was raised this time by Andrew Mitchell, then Member for Gelding (yes, he of more recent Plebgate fame)
...I shall confine my remarks to three related subjects which I believe should be discussed before the House adjourns. They are conductive education, the Peto Institute in Budapest, Hungary — which is the home of conductive education — and my constituent Dawn Rogers, who has been at the Peto Institute for 27 months and is having great difficulty obtaining public funding.
Conductive education — it is not yet sufficiently well known in this country — is a method of educating children, and also some adults, with motor disorders, which are disorders of the central nervous system. That educational system is based on what I believe is known as a 'whole person approach'. Its aim is to enable children with a motor disability to participate fully in mainstream education. The professional input comes from one person, the conductor, who incorporates the skills of many different groups including those of physiotherapist, occupational therapist, teacher and nurse.
The treatment is intensive and relies upon considerable parental involvement. The children are taught more or less from the time they wake up until they go to bed. The aims are to provide education in a structured and rigorous way so that children can have greater control over their bodies and join in everyday life without artificial aids and appliances.
In a moving article in The Sunday Times written almost two years ago, Rose Shepherd described her visit to the Peto clinic and how the British contingent used to arrive there with what she called all the paraphernalia of handicap. It is a great contrast with the Hungarian approach, which is to get the children on to their own feet and up and about as soon as possible.
Conductive education was developed and devised by Dr. Andreas Peto. His philosophy was very simple—that a motor disorder need not be a sentence of immobility for life, but a learning difficulty that can be overcome by skilled teaching. In other words, skills that are automatic to a normal little child can be taught and acquired. There are no miracle cures, but the Peto Institute can claim a 70 per cent. success rate — defined as 'autofunction', or the capability to attend school and eventually live an independent life without the need for special help and equipment.
Such treatment is not generally available in Britain. Anxieties among educationists perhaps prevented an advance until relatively recently, when those anxieties were in part laid to rest. The Government have provided Birmingham university with £326,000 to carry out research into conductive education, and the Departments of Education and Science and of Social Security are jointly funding a survey by the Spastics Society.

The Government's announcement last week of a £5 million grant to the Peto Institute over the next four years is extremely welcome. The grant will go towards the capital costs of the new international Peto Institute in Budapest, a commitment that will make available spaces at the institute commensurate with the number of British children able to go there. At present, 11 British people are being trained on a four-year course to be conductors. About 600 children have attended the institute and the United Kingdom makes more use of it than any other country. I welcome the Government's announcement of that additional funding during the Hungarian Prime Minister's visit here this week.
In addition, as part of a programme of exchanges between the Peto Institute and the Birmingham foundation, a small number of British children receive training in Birmingham from Hungarian conductors and United Kingdom trainees.
Such exchanges beg the question why we cannot move a little faster towards securing the availability of conductive education in Britain. I accept that conductive education already influences professionals involved in educating handicapped children. I also accept that the introduction into the United Kingdom of the Hungarian model of conductive education on any significant scale will have to await the availability of a group of British conductors trained and taught at the Peto Institute. I applaud the Government's support for the Peto Institute and for conductive education. I urge Ministers to speed up as much as possible the provision of such education in the United Kingdom.
Children who attend the Peto Institute receive funding from several sources. There are no central figures, but I am informed that there are approximately eight long-term students at the Peto Institute, of whom six or seven receive support from their local education authorities. There are no more long-term places available. In the past there has been some uncertainty about whether local education authorities could fund students attending the Peto Institute. That has been cleared up by an amendment to the Children Act 1989. I understand that several education authorities, including Coventry, Devon, Birmingham and Fife have helped such students and there may be others who have done so. Alas, my constituent is one of perhaps only two who are as yet unfunded.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, and his officials, whom I met earlier this year to discuss whether any additional means of support could be made available to my constituent. I am also grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security, who has taken a considerable interest in the subject as a whole and in my constituent. My right hon. Friend made clear to me in a recent letter that the Government believe that it is right for parents who consider that the Peto Institute offers services to their disabled children which are not available in Britain to seek support from public funds.
The structure of education in Britain inevitably means that parents must appeal to local education authorities for funding. The remaining budget of the Department of Education and Science is tiny, as funds are funnelled through LEAs. Therefore, my constituents must seek support from Nottinghamshire education authority. So far, we have been unable to persuade the authority to assist. I appreciate how difficult it is for the authority to consider such cases and to grant funds, and I understand that such decisions are not easy. Nevertheless, I appeal to it to reconsider, because this is a one-off case.
My constituent's family have remortgaged their home, sold their business, their caravan and many personal assets and taken out bank loans to be in Budapest with my young constituent. Their reward has been to witness the outstanding progress of their nine-year-old daughter. The local community, too, has been extremely generous. I pay tribute to several organisations in my constituency which have sought to help.
I hope that, in reconsidering, Nottinghamshire education authority will bear in mind the following points. I make them in the spirit of this time of year in the hope that it will seriously consider helping. My constituent has already been at the Peto Institute for two years and three months, so no new decision need be made about where she should be educated. At most, she has an estimated months to go at the institute. If the local education authority were to assist, it would not open the floodgates. Alas, no new long-term places are available at the Peto Institute. Miss Rogers is one of the lucky ones who has made it there in time.
Since the local authority first considered the case, the Government have changed the law in the way that I outlined earlier. Much else has changed, too, including a greater acceptance of the methods of conductive education. The Government have given their explicit approval, as evidenced by their support for the Peto Institute announced in the past week.
I intend no reflection on the quality of Aspley Wood and Fountaindale in Nottinghamshire and the professionalism of the teachers and staff there. My constituent has attended the Peto Institute for the past two and a quarter years and the length of her stay there is finite. Her family have demonstrated their absolute determination to help their daughter. I believe that the authority should assist. Its education committee must be moved by the examples of dedication and self-help which her family display.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House will remember the case of Sebastian Clarke in Birmingham, his fight for funding and his eventual success. My constituents can look to that example with hope. I hope that the LEA will consider what it can do to assist my constituent during her last 18 months at the Peto Institute.

Replying on behalf of the Government, the Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons, Sir Geoffrey Howe, responded in turn to the various matters raised by Members, ending with the matter of Conductive Education and the major political changes then under way in Central and Eastern Europe at that time –
My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), in an eloquent plea, described the importance and impact of the Peto Institute and the work that has been done by it in Hungary. My wife and I, since our visits, have taken a close interest in the institute, and, by good fortune, one of my former private secretaries recently came back from a stint as ambassador there. The institute is not often absent from our minds. I had the opportunity to talk to the Hungarian Prime Minister about it last week and to give him an advance intimation of the substantial amount of money that has been made available and to which my hon. Friend referred. We regard it as an important institute, and we regard its impact in this country as of great value.
I noticed my hon. Friend's particularly eloquent plea for his constituent Miss Rogers. We certainly admire the way in which her family have done what they have to keep her at the institute. I shall certainly do what I can to draw my hon. Friend's plea to the attention of the Nottinghamshire education authority, but I cannot give an undertaking beyond that.
It was encouraging that my hon. Friend's speech should have been the last that we heard on the events in eastern Europe, because it was made on a hopeful note. It was striking that many hon. Members spoke about the entire sequence of events taking place in eastern Europe, and I was grateful to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire for the tribute he paid to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), who, in a speech of the utmost brevity, dealt with all the key points about eastern Europe. We share his delight at the historic developments taking place there. We want to see the countries of eastern Europe joining the democratic mainstream. We applaud the courage of the new Polish Government in tackling radical economic reform. We are delighted that the longer process of reform in Hungary has culminated in the first free election in eastern Europe for more than 40 years.
We agree with my hon. Friend that progress in the future needs to be gradual and step by step. We welcome the first signs of liberalisation in Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic and Bulgaria, and we are keen to help in whatever ways we can to build up democratic societies and market place economies in those countries.
This is what makes so much the more tragic what has been happening in Romania. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight, the hon. Members for Walsall, North and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea all expressed their views about that. We condemn in the strongest terms the attitude of a regime which, turning its back on all the commitments concerning human rights to which it subscribed under the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe framework, is apparently capable of repressing only by force the legitimate aspirations to freedom of the Romanian people. That view was also expressed on Monday in the European Community in Brussels, and we shall hear it echoed in the debate later tonight in which I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), the Minister of State, will have a chance to take part.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved, That this House at its rising on Thursday 21st December do adjourn until Monday 8th January.
Then and now

Those days in the United Kingdom there was a lot of Parliamentary action relating to Conductive Education. I used to display transcripts of this from Hansard on a notice board at work. I recall Tünde Rózsahegyi's coming to me one day, having resd one of these extracts and saying in a very puzzled voice –
Andrew, in your Parlement, do those people really speak like this?

Er, yes, Tünde, they do, I assured her. They still do. And they still talk about the same bread-and-butter matters as they did twenty-odd years ago, without that wisdom of hindsight with which we can now look back with on what was said in 1989.

But they no longer take personal interest in Conductive Education. None of them appears to struggle to grasp something of its essence as so many of them once did Yes, these may have been imperfect understandings in some respect but still better in many cases than understandings current in the relevant professional services. (I except here the probable understandings of the Minister in the present Coalition Government who has been taking his child regularly to the Peto Institute in Budapest – but has kept his head well down with respect to Conductive Education at home in England.) Indeed, Conductive Eduction has slid right off the Parliamentary agenda.

I sometimes run into Frank, father of Sebastian Clarke but, excepting Tünde, I have no further contacts with any other protagonists mentioned above. Meeting Frank is a glimpse into another world


– (1989) Adjournment (Christmas): That this House at its rising on Thursday 21st December do adjourn until Monday 8th January, Hansard, vol. 164, 20 December cc. 394-436 

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