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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 14:

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After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Medical examination or testing

(". No subsidy may be paid by the Secretary of State under section 1(1A) of the Education (Student Loans) Act 1990 unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person by whom the private sector student loan will be made will not require any eligible student to undergo a medical examination or medical tests.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving the above amendment I should like to refer to an earlier debate regarding the issue of disability. I have in mind in particular the importance of all students being treated fairly and equally. There are particular circumstances, such as the identification through medical information and examination of a particular genetic predisposition--though not certainty--of specific diseases. I would argue that it is extremely important that students are protected from discrimination arising from the results of medical examinations or medical tests. In passing the Disability Discrimination Act the Government resisted protecting those who might be considered by others to suffer from a disability, although they did not in fact have it. There was a lengthy debate on that point. In these circumstances it is extremely important that conditions attaching to student loans do not become similar to those attaching to private insurance. I refer in particular to the importance of the Government's stated objective to maximise student choice. This particular category of students would not be covered by existing legislation. I beg to move.

Lord Winston: I hope I may add my two penn'orth to the debate. I apologise for not being present when the early amendments were discussed, one of which was in my name. Unfortunately, I was detained at the Hammersmith Hospital. I feel strongly about the amendment. We must recognise that students are particularly prone to certain diseases suffered by young people, for example, lymphatic diseases such as Hodgkin's Disease, leukaemia and other such illnesses, many of which are treatable. I know of two recent cases where, had a diagnosis been made of the incipient stages of the diseases after a medical examination, it is doubtful whether those students would have been supported through university. One particular student who was at Cambridge had a severe form of Hodgkin's Disease and was given a less than 10 per cent. chance of surviving. I am glad to say that he has not only survived but has also played rugby for his college. That is the kind of student who might have been severely disadvantaged as regards obtaining a loan. I am certain he will obtain a good degree. There are a number of areas where institutions which are considering granting loans might ask for medical records to be provided or for medical examinations to be conducted. Quite naturally, we are nervous about that. I ask the Minister to consider the issue carefully.

Lord Henley: I start by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Winston, that his apology was unnecessary. It was explained to me--I think by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris--that the noble Lord was not able to be here earlier. I completely accept that and regret the fact that we were not able to have the benefit

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of his advice on that occasion, but no doubt on other occasions we shall hear more from the noble Lord. I look forward to that.

Again, I do not think there is much I can add to what I have said on earlier occasions. Obviously we believe it is important that private lenders must be allowed to decide which applications they accept and what assessment procedure they use. I made the point earlier that they are obviously using their own money, in the main, to do this and they are the ones taking the risk.

As regards disabled students, it was right that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, should raise the question, particularly in the light of the fact that the Disability Discrimination Act reached the statute book only last year. Our contracts with the private lenders--as I think I made clear earlier in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, and the noble Lord, Lord Desai--will make it a condition that they do not commit any discrimination outlawed by the Disability Discrimination Act. If they do, they will be in breach both of the law and of our contracts. Sanctions are obviously available to deal with any such action.

Finally, as I said on the previous amendment, we have asked private lenders to include in their tenders details of their policies and processes for considering applications. We have also asked for an estimate of what proportion of applicants they might reject. We shall look carefully at their responses in evaluating the tenders. Clearly, if we are not satisfied, particularly in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said, that that will be a major factor in our decision on which tenders to accept. I hope that with those assurances the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I thank the Minister for that reply. I would ask that in considering this area particular attention is paid to the issue of those potential students who would not be covered by the disability discrimination measures although the grounds for their rejection might rest on assumptions about their medical condition. We look forward to hearing the Minister's comments on that aspect.

Lord Henley: I would say, obviously without prejudice, that I shall consider the latter point that the noble Baroness made in her earlier remarks.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 15:

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Vocational courses

(". No subsidy may be paid by the Secretary of State under section 1(1A) of the Education (Student Loans) Act 1990 to any person by whom private sector student loans may be made unless that person has indicated a willingness to make private sector student loans to any student undertaking a course of study leading to a vocational qualification.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is not dissimilar in feeling and scope to that moved earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, which stood

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in his name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I have to declare an interest in that I was chairman of the Bar Council in 1992 and therefore I am still interested in the education of those who wish to become barristers. I have no interest in the Law Society although some of my best friends are solicitors.

The real problem is that no one can become a barrister or solicitor without at least three years' study to achieve a first degree--normally in law--and then, in the case of the Bar, one year at Bar school and one year in pupillage, which is a long period of time for a young person to support him or herself. It is helpful to bear in mind what the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct stated recently,

    "Unavailability of awards is a direct threat to ... progress [in making law a career as open as possible to people with diverse backgrounds]. It would be wrong to move towards a situation in which entry to the legal profession would be the preserve of the wealthy".
Local education authority provision of discretionary awards has fallen from 39 per cent. of authorities making such awards in 1992, to 19 per cent. in 1993, and to as low as 15 per cent. in 1994. Of those on the Bar vocational course--the Bar school year--three quarters are in debt, and the average level of debt is £6,000. The Bar has notoriously been a profession for middle class, white males. We have done a lot over the past 10 years to make sure that women entered the profession in roughly their proportion in society--about 49 per cent.

Lord Henley: 52 per cent.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I said roughly 49 per cent. To be perfect it should have been 52 per cent. I am conscious that we fell short by 3 per cent. However, I am sure that many a government would be pleased if they only fell short of their usual aspirations by 3 per cent. It should have been a little higher. We did better as regards ethnic minorities. Those from ethnic minority backgrounds came to the Bar in much higher proportions than the equivalent component in that relevant age group in ethnic minority communities. I am afraid that all that is now starting to fall away. The numbers of women entering the profession are starting to decline, as are the numbers from ethnic minorities.

It is a great shame, therefore, if there is not to be a possibility of loans, which are that and no more. I put forward the amendment in the hope that I shall have from the Minister a similar response to that which he was able to give to the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant; in other words, that the problem is recognised and that a kindly eye will be put on the difficulties which are substantial for those who do not come from monied backgrounds, who do not have scholarships or other awards, and whose avenue to local authority discretionary awards has been closed. Nevertheless in many cases they are the brightest, best and most committed students who have most to offer to the legal profession, and therefore to the community as a whole. I tabled the amendment on that basis, recognising that I

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cannot expect more than possibly a fair wind from the Minister in the same manner as was given to the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant. I beg to move.

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