Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Boswell: That would be immensely helpful. As the Minister has correctly surmised, it was the aim of my probing amendment.

What happens when schools are venues for activities that are not directly controlled by the governors, although they have their permission, such as after-school clubs? In such areas, we need to clarify who has responsibility in order to avoid embarrassment to governors in matters beyond their control.

3 pm

Ms Hodge: This is a complex area. Some activities of the kind to which the hon. Gentleman referred are already covered by part III of the DDA, but we must ensure that all activities that take place in schools—education and associated services—are covered. If I give examples of the activities that we will cover in regulations, it will give the hon. Gentleman an idea of what we hope to achieve.

Mr. Boswell: I assure the Minister that I am not trying to be difficult, and nor is she, but I would like to be absolutely clear. If an activity—such as an after-school club—is under the direct control not of the governors but of the person or body carrying out the activity, would that person or body be responsible in the event of litigation? I understand if the Minister does not want to answer that now, but it needs clarification, because governors, and others, might want to protect themselves.

Ms Hodge: I know about after-school clubs, regardless of my ministerial responsibilities. We hope as soon as possible to make governors responsible for such matters—under the Regulatory Reform Bill that is going through Parliament. After-school clubs will be covered under the new anti-discriminatory provisions in the Bill.

A parents' evening is the kind of activity covered by part III of the DDA. If a parent suffered discrimination and could not participate in a parents' evening solely because of a disability, he or she could take action under the existing part III. A child's inability to participate in an after-school activity, even one not currently run directly by the governors, will be incorporated in the proposed revision of part IV that we are debating.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): I should like to clear up a nicety of devolution. In the first part of the Bill, we were looking to amend an earlier Education Act, so we were discussing a devolved matter. For example, clause 5(6) states:

    ``Regulations under this section, so far as they relate to Wales, require the agreement of the National Assembly for Wales.''

We are now discussing an Act that covers what is not, strictly speaking, a devolved matter. However, proposed new subsection (3) states:

    ``The Secretary of State may by regulations prescribe services''

that are defined as being

    ``(a) education; or

    (b) an associated service.''

Education is a devolved matter. In one sense, I can understand why the clause is written like that, but is the matter covered by the concordats between the Welsh Assembly and the Minister's Department? How will the consultation process work in this instance?

Ms Hodge: My hon. Friend touched on an issue that has greatly concerned us. Equal opportunities are reserved to the Department, but education, as my hon. Friend rightly said, is a devolved matter. It has been very complicated to get the right relationship between the devolved responsibilities to the education authority and the reserved responsibilities of anti-discrimination. We consulted closely with officials in Wales and with Members of the Welsh Assembly while developing our proposals for legislation, and I reassure my hon. Friend that, if the Bill is enacted, we will ask the Disability Rights Commission to prepare codes of practice about the implementation of duties. We will ask them to produce separate chapters, if not separate codes, for both Wales and Scotland. Therefore, there will be ample consultation to give regard to the differences that are inevitably present in a devolved situation. I hope that that assures my hon. Friend.

In order to help the Committee, I return to the matters that will be covered by the proposed regulations. Obviously, we will cover all teaching during core school hours. We will also cover school assemblies, field trips—school trips for a child with diabetes would be covered—exchanges and study-support activities, which was a further example to which the hon. Member for Daventry referred. We will also cover all extra-curricular activities, such as sport, music or drama coaching and sports activities in which pupils represent their school. We will also cover all school trips with an educational element, break times, school meal provision, after-school clubs provided by parents' associations with the permission of the school, which have also been referred to, non-educational school trips, childcare, and leisure activities such as school discos. [Laughter.] They are a very important part of school life.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): I was thinking of other activities that may take place in a school environment. Would cadet forces be covered?

Ms Hodge: I will seek detailed advice on that and I will write to the hon. Gentleman about it. Off the top of my head, I think that cadet forces may well be a part III issue under the old DDA. I am receiving nods from my officials.

Mr. Randall: I wondered because of the current debate about disability within the armed forces.

Ms Hodge: I understand the matter being raised. In order to be accurate, it will be better for me to write to the hon. Gentleman about it, and I undertake to do that.

I shall clarify some complexities. Part III would cover services to parents involved with the school. Such services as parent-teacher association meetings, parents' evenings, open days for new and prospective parents, and the community use of schools will continue to be covered by the provisions. We seek the power to make regulations about education and associated services because, as the debate has illustrated, there may still be areas around the margins in which it is unclear to the school, or others, which set of DDA duties apply to which activities; is it part III or part IV?

Mr. Boswell rose—

The Chairman: I call the Minister—[Interruption.]

Mr. Boswell: Well, it is only a matter of time, Mr. O'Brien.

Can the Minister clarify that anything that goes on in a school will be covered either by part III or part IV? The converse of that is that the provision for regulation is about the designation between the various duties. It is not about finding categories that are left out, unless they are wholly exceptional categories, such as the one to which my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) referred, which may fall for other reasons as excepted occasions. When I tabled the amendment, I was anxious to find out what had been left out of the provision, but I think that the hon. Lady is saying to me, unless I misinterpreted her remarks, that everything is under one heading or another. Will she clarify the situation?

Ms Hodge: The hon. Gentleman is right that the provision gives us the facility to ensure that we can properly categorise whether the measure is a part III or part IV obligation.

I wish to return briefly to the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths).

Mr. Levitt: For Wales.

Ms Hodge: We are all getting new titles this afternoon. We shall ensure that the specific interests of Wales are taken on board when developing the necessary codes of practice. There will not necessarily be a separate chapter, however. I would not like my hon. Friend to leave the Committee not knowing that. Having given those reassurances, I hope that hon. Gentlemen will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Boswell: I am grateful to the Minister. She has taken a certain amount of incoming fire. However, it has been friendly fire and was designed to elucidate on such matters. I see that the hon. Member for Bridgend is now leaving the Room, having fired his bullets. As a vicarious Welsh person through marriage, it clearly would be unfortunate if the effect of the duties were to be materially different under the two Administrations.

The Minister has confirmed that everything is in, unless for some exceptional reason, it is out and that her regulation-making powers that I always bridle at—if only in theory and temporarily—are about how she assigns those duties between the different parts of the Disability Discrimination Act. In the light of that and bearing in mind that, broadly speaking, there are safeguards within the Act and through the Disability Rights Commission that are designed to make the safeguards do-able and not unduly onerous or unreasonable, we can give her a fair wind both for her explanation and for the clause.

Mr. Levitt: The reference of the hon. Member for Daventry to his being temporarily non-ministerial—a phrase that applies to most of us—meant in a general way that we were all temporarily non-disabled.

I refer to the Disability Rights Task Force. How it was set up within weeks of the Government coming to power in 1997 and the work that was done with it not only by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, but her predecessor, the right hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Howarth), showed a sense of purpose right from the start. We are now witnessing one of the first positive outcomes from the Government's response to the Disability Rights Task Force operation. It was a privilege to work closely with my hon. Friend throughout 1999 before I was moved to my present position in another Department. I am therefore especially proud to be here today.

3.15 pm

To return to the clause, I want to pick up the idea that I mentioned this morning that someone with a disability is not necessarily the same as someone with special educational needs. I am sure that there was a time in the past when people with disabilities that did not impose an educational or learning imposition or burden on them were nevertheless treated as having one. It was only because of the lack of insight, inspiration, care and thought by that temporarily non-disabled majority who run things that the needs of such people were not met. What the clause does—I regret that the amendment would remove this provision—is to provide a legislative framework for what is already being done, in terms of the doubling by the Government of the grants available for disabled students and of the grants available for schools to put in lifts and ramps, so that they do not have to meet the cost out of normal revenue expenditure.

The temporarily non-right hon. Member for Uxbridge led me to think about climbing walls, which are found in many gymnasiums. The thought went through my mind that providing a ramp would allow people access to a climbing wall. That is not as silly as it sounds, because there is no reason why people with disabilities should not access climbing walls—it is merely that they do not access them in the same way as everyone else. We should facilitate that part of their wider education. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Barking is aware that when we talk about schools making the necessary accommodations to comply with the clause, we must also consider acoustics, lighting and decor. All of those are important in making a disabled-friendly environment within schools.

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