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Earl Russell: I am most grateful to the Minister for the trouble that he has taken and the care with which he has responded to a long series of points. I hope that I shall not be taken to be ungracious if I press him just a little further. There are questions to which I would very much like the answers but I have not yet heard them.
First, I should like to know what is meant by the word "facilities" referred to in Amendment No. 91 (new Section (6)). Could the Minister answer that with the case of Pepper v. Hart in mind? We have no argument about physical provisions for access. That has been clear
I must confess that I simply did not understand what the Minister said on that point. He said that the Government wanted information on physical facilities and on provision for education and research for disabled people. I believe that those were his exact words. But I cannot work out what those words mean. In putting on a course, one does not provide facilities for disabled people "full stop". One may be able to provide facilities for one kind of disabled people in one course and for another kind of disabled people in another course. One needs to know the specific course and the specific disability. Is the Minister in fact asking us to match course to disability across the field of every single course taught in every university? If he is saying that, does he realise what a burden of work he is setting for us? If he is asking something else, I should like to know what and I should like to know why.
I should also like to know what the word "research" is doing in the amendment. In my subject, the university does not provide facilities for research. The facilities for research are the British Library, the Public Record Office and the County Record Office, all provided by other authorities. Therefore one cannot require universities to provide facilities for research, least of all before one knows what research is wanted. I do not understand what the word "research" is doing in the amendment. I am sure that the Minister could put my fears to rest very quickly if he could make clear what he wants. If he can do that, there will be a great effort on our part, if we can, to give him what he wants. But we need to know what it is first.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: It may be helpful for me to respond to the two interventions asking about some of the detail on the points I made. I can begin with the noble Earl, Lord Russell. Being reminded by the noble Earl about the case of Pepper v. Hart, I shall be a little cautious. I shall certainly make sure that I read the exchange we have had. If there is anything I feel I can add, I shall write to him and I have no doubt that the noble Earl will approach me if he thinks there is anything, on reflection, that is not quite right.
I may be repeating myself, but it is the best I can do. The intention is that the statement would assist disabled students and funding councils generally to understand the provision available for education and research in a specific institution. I imagineI will check that I am right about thisthat if a student is looking for a Ph.D course or postgraduate degree, he will need to research where it is available. That is the research we are talking about. It relates to the availability of a course in a university to a disabled student.
In relation to the statement, I was asked about my remark that it would go wider than simply including information in relation to physical facilities. I said very clearly that it would be a matter for funding councils in consultation with the universities to decide together what facilities they are referring to. It will not be up to the Government. We are asking the funding councils to do that and are not expecting to do it ourselves. I am advised that the education research I quotedperhaps I was wrong in my definition of itcomes from the existing Act. I shall check on that and write to the noble Earl if he does not mind.
Turning to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, we want the £10 million to buy as much as possible. The schools access initiative proposes that schools should harness community involvement, in part through funding, but also through co-operation in partnership. However, the consultation paper makes clear that additional funding is not essential. I hope that that helps the noble Baroness.
I hope that we will have a coherent programme; that is the object of my amendment. While at some point in the future it may be possible to reach the position where every course is available in every institution of higher education, the reality is that it will take some time to reach that situation. While I appreciate that some students are a long way from any university, the increased number of universities throughout the countrythanks to the policies of this Governmentmeans that there will be a number of universities within easy reach of the great majority of potential students. That does not mean all of them, but the chances are that, if they have to leave home to go to university, then they will have the full range of universities to look at to find the one that most suits them from the point of view of their disability, the courses provided, and so forth.
With the increasing number of universities we have around, I do not actually think that that will be a huge problem, although I appreciate that it could be a difficult problem in certain instances. But I think we have to, dare I say, walk before we can run. I am not sure whether the noble Baroness was inviting me to contemplate that whatever is demanded will be paid for. The reality of government is that that commitment can never be given. I very much hope that the higher education council, the FEFC, the schools and the £10 million will be able to progress this matterwe all want to see it progressedas quickly as they possibly can, using the resources, which are always tight, in the most efficient manner.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I must press the Minister slightly further on this. If the Government's assumption is that this category of need is different in kind from others so that this one ought to attract community involvement, it really is unjustifiable and actually makes the case for this being a right that is included among the services rather than tacked on to the end. I was certainly not suggesting that the Government should meet all need in all ways. But it is the case that the Government accept that there is a statutory requirement to provide a roof over every child's head in order that they can have education. It must be the case, therefore, that if education were included as of right to
Earl Russell: I must confess to being extremely disappointed by the Minister's answer on the word "facilities". I entirely take his point that what information is asked for will be decided by the funding council. But he is here conferring vires on the funding council. He is giving it power to do something. When one creates a power one must understand what the scope of that power is so that one can say what is within it and what is beyond it. If the Minister is really telling me that he is creating vires without understanding their meaning, when we meet again on Monday I shall be questioning the vires he creates in that Bill with a great deal more care than I intended to do yesterday.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I shall try again. The word "facilities" was prefaced by the word "physical". Perhaps I missed out the word "physical" in my second attempt to help the noble Earl but in my first attempt to help him I hope I said "physical facilities". On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, I am not entirely sure where she is coming to me from. If we are talking about the £10 million, perhaps I may say to her that I shall reflect on what she said and bring the matter to the attention of my colleagues at the Department for Education and ask them to write to her. It would be foolish if we made any suggestion to the outside world that somehow we can have unlimited resources. I am afraid we cannot. If the noble Baroness talks to her honourable friend Gordon Brown he will tell her that that is now the name of the new Labour Party.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I must come back on one point. If it is reasonable to provide a legal requirement on employers in the private sector, it might possibly be a case of what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the ganderfor the Government to accept their own liability when it comes to the provision of resources for education.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): I thank all noble Lords for contributing to this useful debate and for having given such serious consideration to my amendments. I am grateful for the strong support that I have received from all sides of the House. Although that support was particularly strong from some sides, I shall not single out any particular noble Lord.
However, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, gave me a priority shopping list, perhaps I may briefly answer a few of his points. He gave the examples of asbestos, financial hardship, the library and ramps. I agree absolutely that asbestos would probably be the most important. The noble Earl said that he would be happy if the other three were regarded as equal. I might be a little harder and say that the library might be more important. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is disapproving because of the answer that I gave the other
Who decides what is "reasonable"? We shall have to work out the answer to that. The noble Earl asked for an undertaking that nothing in the Bill would pressurise a university to change the content of a course. I should think that such a decision would be entirely for the university. However, it might be legitimate to ask a university to ask itself whether there was another way of arriving at the same course with the same content and of the same standard. We could ask universities to think about that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Park, for whose support I am extremely grateful, said that what I was asking for did not seem too expensive. She hoped that it would not be too expensive. There are about 50,000 disabled students in higher education at the moment, with about 100,000 in further education. Those figures are guesses which may be on the high side, but we have made great progress and much has been done. We cannot predict demand, but my point is that we can contain the cost. We must do that.
The Minister will not be at all surprised that I found his reply disappointing, although I am grateful for the time that he spent on it. He said that, at a stroke, the amendments would undermine the strategic role. That is not the case. The Minister said that he was not sure whether he had applied the belt, the braces or both. I ask him to look to his buttons, seams and pockets.
The Minister was rather disparaging when I said that we could do this by regulations and by a definition of "reasonableness". He wondered whether that could be done in Clauses 13 and 14 in relation to goods and services. My point is that the Minister has created Part IIIA (on education), which gives us a whole new set of regulations and definitions. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, said that there has never been any trouble with the Sex Discrimination Act or the Race Relations Act in that regard. That is true. Both the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality say that the educational provisions are much more tightly drawn than others and that there has not been any trouble. I suggest that the fact that the Minister has created provisions on education now presents us with an opportunity.
The Minister has not given me anything like an open door, but I ask him whether he will not open the door a chink. I know that I said that this was a probing amendment, but perhaps it could be regarded as a prodding or a nudging amendment. Can we have a little open chink of door so that we can continue this discussion seriously outwith the Committee?
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