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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Does the Minister agree that that is the problem with the missing votes tonight?

10 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Yes, that is true, I must ask about the matter. It was my writing I misread—my misfortune.

I am grateful to the noble Earl for expressing his thanks to my noble friend Lord Lucas, and the officials at the department as well as my honourable friend Tim Boswell, the Minister responsible for higher education matters at the department. We sought an alternative route and considered an amendment to Section 65 to achieve an equivalent effect through the funding councils' own powers to impose conditions of grant. We consulted further about the drafting of an amendment to Section 65, and subsection (6) of the amendment now tabled takes into account further discussions with representative bodies, as the noble Earl recognised.

The representative bodies have also sought clarification of the intended scope of the information in the statements. The noble Earl asked me about that. The intention is that the statements would assist disabled students and funding councils generally in understanding the provision available for education and research in the particular institution. The drafting of the amendment is designed to secure that. The statements would thus go wider than simply including information about physical facilities. It will be a matter for the funding councils, in consultation, to determine how to specify the information needed in the statements to achieve that in a viable and

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cost-effective way. I should stress that the provision of information will not ipso facto require any changes in the nature of the facilities offered by the institution.

I hope that the Committee will support these higher education amendments and the associated amendment relating to the teachers' training agency. They offer an alternative, flexible and preferable approach to including further and higher education within the ambit of Part III of the Bill rather than the amendments put down by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth).

Perhaps I may turn to Amendment No. 90, which I also tabled. It amends the Education Act 1993. The Government seek to build substantially on a measure which has already been widely acclaimed—the requirement on all schools to make plain their policies towards pupils with special educational needs.

One of the major themes in the Education Act 1993 was that mainstream schools should play their full part in providing for pupils with special needs at every stage; and that a school's duties should be clarified through the code of practice for the identification and assessment of such children. That has been achieved and your Lordships have received and ratified that code. Local accountability is ensured through the requirement on schools to formulate and publish information about their policy for children with special needs, keeping parents and prospective parents informed. The publication of SEN policies will help to prevent the possibility that parents could feel inclined to send their child to a special school on the basis that they did not know enough about the SEN provision in local mainstream schools.

We now want to extend and strengthen that very successful initiative. In another place, the Government listened carefully to concern about the appeals arrangements for pupils with SEN. Some appeared to feel that although the 1993 Act provided a specific appeals structure for pupils with statements it did not provide a similar safety net for those pupils without statements. I should like to make it absolutely clear at this point that the 1993 Act contains significant measures for pupils without statements. Only about 2 per cent. of children require statements of special educational need, though about 20 per cent. of children have SEN at some time. The code of practice covers all pupils with SEN, not just those with statements.

However, we have looked closely at the appeals mechanism for pupils without statements and are satisfied that we can improve the situation for those pupils and their parents through the amendment. We aim to place a duty on the face of the Bill for governors to publish information about, first, the arrangements for the admission of disabled pupils; secondly, the steps taken to prevent disabled pupils from being treated less favourably than other pupils in the school; and, thirdly, the facilities provided by the school to assist access for disabled pupils.

While we stand firm in maintaining the exclusion of education and protecting the recent legislation, we recognise the strength of feeling displayed during debates which has called for an acknowledgment that unjustifiable discrimination cannot be condoned in schools. That is why we have taken the step of making this amendment in primary legislation.

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Schools which are inaccessible to disabled pupils will have to admit it. The need to do so will be a spur for them to consider how they might become accessible cost effectively. We have already advised them that they may be able to do that, perhaps through flexibility in their own budgets or, if they are grant-maintained schools, by direct application for capital grant to the funding authority. Now, of course, the new schools access initiative will be able to make improvements and assist the general accessibility of all schools. The Government published a consultation paper on the initiative on 29th March and propose to make £10 million available in 1996-97 to fund imaginative and cost-effective projects to increase both physical and curriculum access to mainstream schools. It will be invaluable in helping to consolidate our recent measures in special education, including the code of practice.

Amendment No. 90 will also provide practical strengthening of parents' rights. Once a school has specified under this formulation the arrangements it has in place to avoid discrimination against disabled pupils a dissatisfied parent could make the school's non-compliance with its stated policy a central issue under the existing appeals arrangements whose autonomy and independence is ensured by the recent codes of practice and the addition of a lay member.

Amendment No. 90 will also specifically require schools to set out their policies of non-discrimination against pupils with disabilities. Schools should not merely pay lip service to the integration of disabled pupils; rather they should do everything they can to achieve genuine and full integration. I am convinced that this measure will encourage such integration, underpinned by the statutory duty to integrate pupils within mainstream schools as far as is possible.

The Committee will, I am sure, see that these are very significant measures which, without creating large burdens on schools and authorities, will do a great deal to focus creative thinking in our schools, promote a better deal for many disabled children and accelerate further the trend to greater integration in mainstream schools.

The purpose of Amendment No. 150 is simply to make the entry for the repeals schedule which is needed as a result of Amendment No. 90.

I apologise for having spoken at some length but as these are important new clauses the Committee would rightly expect me to explain them in some detail. Also, of course, it will enable Members of the Committee to read in Hansard exactly what I said, thereby allaying, I hope, any fears. I trust that the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), will accept that while I am not going for what I described to her as the "belt and braces" solution—I am not sure whether mine is the belt or the braces—I very much hope that, whichever it is, the solution is sensible and realistic in all the circumstances. I hope that she will withdraw her amendment. If perchance—who knows?—it is put to the vote, I hope that my noble friends will support me against it and that subsequently they will support me when I put my amendments to the Committee. I am pretty certain, however, that my amendments will be widely and warmly welcomed by the Committee, and I commend them.

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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I wish to press the Minister on one aspect of his comments on his Amendment No. 90. I seek an explanation, if not tonight then at some other time, as to why, unlike all other parts of capital funding of school building projects, it is proposed in the draft setting out for consultation the expenditure of £10 million capital grant for 1996-97 that matching funding should be sought from a non-statutory source. It strikes one as unfair that funding for building needs should be met only in those schools that are able to raise funds from voluntary contributions or voluntary organisations. That does not seem equitable.

On access and the whole issue of higher and further education, I ask the Minister to consider, within presumably the coherent programme the Government seek, as opposed to what the Minister described as the piecemeal approach—I understood, though perhaps I got it wrong, that he was talking about a coherent programme—perhaps developing different facilities at different universities to allow student choice. That is fine for students who are able to leave home and students who are of standard entry age. However, an increasing percentage of students are mature students or students who have physical problems which do not allow them to leave home. Therefore it is important that all higher education institutions are adapted as quickly as possible to take the widest range.

Also, our universities and colleges are an access point for many local employers. Again, it is critically important because employers will not send people to go on short training as readily as they will send them to the local facility.

Finally, perhaps I may ask the Government to consider the fact that, by treating this area of capital funding separately from credit approvals in the normal education budget allocations that are made at budget time, they are still ducking the issue of the local priority that is given to credit approval expenditure. Current government levels for education building spending only allow basic need in the overwhelming majority of cases, and basic need is the highest priority.

But surely the situation is that for each student or pupil who is denied access it is 100 per cent. denial of access for that individual. We are not dealing with a marginal effect. For those students and pupils, the resources ought to be as available as though there were no place available for them physically within the school, because literally that is the position. Therefore, the roof over their head must include the ramp to the door as being equal and not inferior in terms of government priorities when allocating funds for school building.


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