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Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, if the Student Loans Company is now so efficient, why are the Government coercing unwilling banks and building societies into providing competitive schemes when there is no evidence whatever that students want competitive schemes?

Lord Henley: My Lords, we are not coercing banks and building societies into the new scheme. We shall invite expressions of interest from all banks, and I am sure that they will come forward. As I tried to make clear to the noble Lord earlier, and as I made clear on another occasion when I spoke in the debate on the Queen's Speech, we believe that it is important to extend choice and diversity in the loan scheme to all students. We think that all students will benefit. I believe that financial institutions themselves will be able to put forward packages which will be of interest to those students.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the National Commission on Education and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals have suggested a mechanism of repayment through the tax or national insurance system different in some respects from the Australian graduate tax, which is more of a lifetime tax? The proposals they have made relate to

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actual repayment of the sum borrowed once the individual has reached a certain level of income. Will the Government examine those proposals carefully?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I believe that I addressed that question in answering my noble friend Lord Beloff. I do not believe that the tax and national insurance systems are suitable vehicles for debt collection.

Baroness David: My Lords, is it not a fact that the reason so much money is owing and is likely to continue to be owed is the Treasury's objection to the PSBR being increased? Is that not why the scheme is being introduced?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not believe that excessive amounts are still owed. As I made clear, I believe that the Student Loans Company is performing well. I made it clear that of moneys due to be repaid, some 95 per cent. are being collected at the moment.

Lord Annan: My Lords, the noble Baroness may have said that there is great satisfaction among students; it is a very different view from that of vice-chancellors and principals. Will the noble Lord put his weight behind having a discussion with the committee? The committee has been trying to encourage the Government to discuss the matter for some time. The Government refuse to do so. Surely the time has come when there might be some exchange of views.

Lord Henley: My Lords, either I or my right honourable friend might be prepared to consider such applications for further discussions. However, I do not believe that now is the moment drastically to change the scheme. We shall still have the Student Loans Company. We shall also have the availability of private sector banks offering loans. I do not believe that there is a case at present either to extend the scheme or for trying to make use either of a tax or the national insurance system for the reasons that I set out earlier.

Disabled People: Job Prospects

2.50 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Ashley through illness, and with his agreement, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

    Whether her Majesty's Government expect any significant changes in the job prospects of disabled people.

Lord Henley: My Lords, perhaps I may offer my best wishes to the noble Lord on behalf of this side of the House and hope to see him back in his place in due course.

The employment provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act will have a significant and positive impact on the job prospects of disabled people.

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The Government will continue to promote employer commitment to a positive approach to employing disabled people and will continue to provide practical support through employment and training services and programmes.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. What steps are being taken to educate employers in the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act? What is being done to ensure that the situation is better rather than worse as a result of the disappearance of the quota system? The Minister will no doubt recall that during discussion of the Bill when it was before your Lordships' House a number of us expressed some concern about the disappearance of the quota system even though we accepted that it had its critics and disadvantages.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness will accept, as will most Members of the House, that the quota system had reached the end of its life and that it was time that it should go. As the noble Baroness will be aware, the employment provisions of the Act will come into force next year. In the meanwhile, as we made quite clear as the Bill was going through Parliament, we shall bring forward a code of practice. That draft code of practice will be published shortly. We shall consult on it before producing the final code of practice some time in the summer--well before the provisions come into effect. Thus employers, disabled people, and organisations of and for disabled people will be able to get to grips with the code of practice to make sure that it can be brought into effect, and that it provides the best assistance to disabled people while not imposing an over-onerous burden on employers.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the access to work scheme--it was introduced by the Government only a few years ago--has been widely accepted as having been a great success? The only concern now is that the scheme might be reduced. Will the Government carefully consider any changes in that scheme? It is working well, although it coincides with the new Act.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful for what my noble friend said about the access to work scheme. I played some small part in its introduction a little over 18 months ago.

I accept that the access to work scheme has helped a large number of disabled people. I believe that some 10,000 people were being helped by the scheme in the 12 months to June 1995. However, my noble friend will be aware that we are reviewing the access to work scheme, as I and my right honourable friend Mr. Hunt promised to do when we introduced the scheme. Most of the beneficiaries of the access to work scheme have been those in employment. Some 80 per cent. of the beneficiaries were in employment, whereas the scheme was originally designed to help those unemployed. There is not yet direct evidence that the scheme has been

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as helpful to the unemployed as we would wish. That is one of the matters that we shall have to address when we review the scheme.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will appreciate that the Royal British Legion has a great interest in the scheme. It would be only too willing to give some assistance. That body could gain from people who have served our country and who are disabled. I am sure that the Minister would be pleased to talk to it.

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord does considerable service to the Royal British Legion in bringing its marvellous work to the attention of the House. It is work of which I believe we are all well aware and for which we are grateful. I shall certainly listen to any specific points that the Royal British Legion wishes to put to me.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister's view that the new changes will help disabled people into work is sincere. However, will he give an assurance that when the code of practice is drawn up it will contain a requirement to monitor the situation; and that the hoped-for increase in numbers will be published? While I rely on his assurance, we need to follow through quite clearly how people with disabilities will have equal access to work.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I can give the noble Baroness the assurance that we shall monitor the success of the Act. We are as committed to making it a success as everyone else, but I do not believe that the code of practice would be the right place to put in a guarantee to monitor the Act. However, I can give the noble Baroness that assurance from this Dispatch Box this afternoon.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, would it be useful to draw the attention of Members of the House to the brochures which have just been produced by the department? They draw attention to the effect of the measures which are likely to appear following the Disability Discrimination Act. The brochures are well produced and concise. I am sure that they will help to raise public appreciation of the problems of the disabled, both in looking for employment and in access.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for allowing me to make considerable savings on our publicity budget by bringing to the attention of the House those publicity documents. If my noble friend wishes, and it is the wish of the House, I shall certainly place copies of them in the Library.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House what progress is made with regard to supported employment programmes for the severely disabled? Will he give assurances about the continuing support, for example, for Remploy?


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