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Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for a very full and detailed explanation of the development of the Government's proposals. I do not complain that he went on "at some length" as he put it, because it is important for us to have as much clarification as possible of what he has in mind. Speaking from the business point of view, I like his approach in terms of having at stage one the specialist agencies and at stage two the team of experts. We must realise that we have to build up expertise. The proposals are therefore helpful, as were my noble friend's points about the lead-in period.

I am satisfied that the Government's proposals are in line with the amendment as moved. Of course, they are not precisely the same: otherwise, the amendment would be agreed to. However, I am satisfied that that further explanation amply clarifies the law and is now on the record. It goes much of the way to secure the commitment which the business community is genuinely seeking.

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It seems to me that the mechanisms proposed for Clause 24 are the Government's insurance policy for the long-term investment in achieving equality of opportunity for disabled people. That is good for disabled people and for business. As my noble friend said, the last thing that we want to do is to create a situation where everybody is running off to lawyers and into court.

I remind your Lordships that this legislation is a social reform and as such I guess that it cannot be too prescriptive. I was struck by my noble friend's comments on this point because the last thing that I want is for the provisions to be prescriptive. Being a social reform, the legislation will evolve. The lead-in period will help in that respect.

I remind your Lordships also that all of us in this House and the business community are clearly united in the determination to end discrimination against disabled people. Sometimes during the passage of the Bill, which seems to have been for ever, being both long and tortuous, we have tended to lose sight of that and to have got into slightly confrontational situations. We are all on the same side in our determination to end such discrimination. I believe in all conscience that there is no division in this House either on the amendment or on the Minister's full response, which, I repeat, is now on the record. In the true spirit of this legislation, I pray in aid the CBI parliamentary brief which most noble Lords have received, to remind ourselves that,


    "working together to reach lasting solutions, rather than short term gains, will ensure that the end to discrimination against disabled people, becomes a reality".

In that spirit, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 not moved.]

7 p.m.

Clause 26 [Further and higher education of disabled persons]:

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 32:


Page 22, line 28, leave out ("follows") and insert ("set out in subsections (2) to (6)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 34.

In Committee and on Report noble Lords were, quite correctly, anxious to establish whether there was a clear division of duties between the further education funding councils and the local education authorities in order to satisfy themselves that the law had made provision for students with learning difficulties and disabilities. I believe that we have addressed that point. They were anxious to establish also that the courses provided by local education authorities enjoyed parity of esteem with those funded through the FEFCs. The Bill now includes amendments requiring further education institutions to provide "disability statements" about their provision of facilities for education for students with disabilities. Accordingly, on Report I undertook to consider whether I might bring forward an amendment placing a similar duty on LEAs.

Taken with existing clauses, these amendments will ensure that disabled people are better informed of the full range of further education provision open to them,

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irrespective of whether it is funded by the FEFC or LEAs. LEA-funded further education centres as well as FE colleges will now have to provide useful and practical information for prospective disabled students to help them make informed decisions about their choice of education. Many LEAs already provide comprehensive information about their further education facilities for disabled persons; we aim, through this amendment, to make sure that all LEAs adhere to that good practice.

These amendments, taken together with the other educational provisions in the Bill, will greatly increase the information available to pupils, students and parents when making choices about education, and I commend them to the House. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I welcome the amendment from the Government and the fact that discussions are taking place with the Department for Education and Employment, the FEFC and the LEAs. We hope that that will clarify in detail the respective responsibilities and duties with regard to course provision. I seek an assurance from the Minister that the form that the prescribed description will take will be the subject of consultation with the LEAs.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): My Lords, I give the amendment a warm welcome and thank the Minister for a positive response to the concerns that we all voiced, first, about students falling between the two stools of the FE sector Schedule 2 provision and the LEA provision; and, secondly, about the quality and quantity of non-Schedule 2 provision.

The new duty placed on LEAs to produce disability statements now brings them into line with the colleges. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, mentioned the other amendments brought forward at earlier stages of the Bill. I shall not take up the time of your Lordships on the Bill do now pass, so perhaps I may say briefly how welcome are all the amendments first heralded in the other place and then introduced in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. It is good that education now figures in Part IV of the Bill. That does not of course mean that it is subject to anti-discrimination legislation, which I regret. SKILL, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, still feels that education should be included in Part III which outlaws discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services.

However I accept, as does SKILL, that the Government genuinely believe that bringing education into Part III would be detrimental to their strategic plan to improve further and higher education provision for students with disabilities and learning difficulties. We therefore very much welcome the useful statements made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, on Report, first, about the complaints procedure for FE students; and, secondly, about the colleges' duty to meet the needs of disabled students whom they enrol. They will strengthen the strategic plan.

I welcome also the commitment to look further into the question of transport to and from further education establishments which the noble Baroness has already mentioned.

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I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, for being willing to meet and discuss matters in the first place, and also the then Minister for Education in the other place, Tim Boswell; and I recognise the hours of hard work put in by officials of the DFEE and the staff of SKILL to arrive at a solution.

Finally, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for making the helpful statements on Report and for now coming forward with the amendment. I am grateful to the many noble Lords on all sides of the House who have given powerful and continued support. That is quite enough eulogistic chat from me, I think. I very much hope that the amendment will iron out the problems. If not, it may be necessary to consider in future bringing all communication and living skills under Schedule 2. For the moment however it is a welcome and positive step towards ensuring that students with severe learning difficulties learn to operate as effectively as possible in the adult world.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, for getting in her retaliation first, if I may put it that way, or, rather, for getting in her Bill do now pass speech in advance. I apologise on behalf of my noble friend Lord Mackay that he had to miss part of it, but he will read it with enormous interest tomorrow when he has a chance. I take note of the points that the noble Baroness made.

I also express my gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, for reminding the House that we have already started on consultation with the LEAs, and obviously that is important. I can give her an assurance that the form of LEA disability statement will obviously be the subject of consultation with the LEAs. As far as is possible, we shall try to find something that is satisfactory to all parties concerned. Obviously in advance of that consultative process, I do not believe that there is much more I can say about what form that will take.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 33:


Page 23, line 39, after ("of") insert ("physical or other support").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 35 which is Amendment No. 33's Scottish cousin. There is, I understand, no difference save that of nationality between the two amendments.

When I arrived here I was advised by my Whips that I could never declare an interest too often. Accordingly, in any university matter I do so. I should like also to thank the Ministers (both the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish) and through them their officials for a meeting which I hope may much shorten the length of my remarks.

The amendment concerns these statements which universities are to be required to provide about facilities for those with disabilities. It seeks to insert the words "physical or other support" before "facilities". The concern is this. First, disabilities, as we all know, are extremely multifarious. So are academic courses. The task of matching every disability to every course would

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be a truly exhausting one. We should like an assurance that universities will not be asked to attempt that labour of total enumeration.

The other point upon which we would hope to hear reassurance is that matters concerning admissions and curriculum are matters of academic judgment. While it is, I think, generally recognised that universities will and must make an effort to adapt to the needs of students with any particular disability wherever they can, it must remain a matter of academic judgment what adaptations can be made and what cannot.

I should like to clarify that point very briefly, if I may. There is, I think, and should be, a duty on universities to try to help, especially when a student has been accepted. There is a duty to that student. Some obstacles can be overcome. Some are harder. Some cannot yet be. But I do remember that many obstacles which now can be overcome could not be overcome 30 years ago. But we cannot accept at present an obligation to open every course to people with every disability. There are some obstacles which have not yet been overcome.

The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), asked me on Report whether universities recognised an obligation to look for leeway in a course where there is something in it that creates an obstacle to people with disabilities. I can now clearly give her the answer yes to that question. We will look. The modularisation of courses will make it easier to look.

There is a duty to respect the freedom of academic judgment but that carries with it a reciprocal duty to use that judgment to be as helpful as we can be. I hope that that clarifies the position a little. I beg to move.


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