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Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply. Could he consider applying the Royal National Institute for the Blind's clear print standards to documents commonly used by Peers? Is he aware that this could benefit all Peers, not just those with visual impairments? Could he also explore with the RNIB the possibility of providing dedicated support for visually impaired Peers who require information in formats other than print--for example, on tape or disk--either now or in the future?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, on the final point made by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, something has already been done in that direction. To an extent, I have indicated some of the steps that have been taken in my original Answer. We shall certainly keep a watch on that matter to see whether any additional help can be provided. I am always very happy to receive any representations from the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

On the point about the RNIB's clear print standards, something has been done in that direction as well. I know, for instance, that italic printing can be confusing and that bold print or roman print can be very much more helpful, and not just to those who are visually impaired. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, may be interested to know--if he is not already aware of it--that a few years ago, when our Order Paper was re-designed, italic lettering was removed almost entirely and, in particular, that Ministers' names, which used to be in italic print, are now in roman print.

I could not help noticing that italic print leans to the right. I am assured that there is no political significance in what has been done in that direction.

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I hesitate to trespass on the time of the House but, on behalf of the House, perhaps I could take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morris, on having been invited by Rehabilitation International--the body that co-ordinates disabled organisations throughout the world--to chair its world planning group. The group will draft its charter for the millennium which will be presented to heads of government throughout the world later this year.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I rise with a double bias, one in favour of my noble friend Lord Morris. I am delighted that he is to receive this great honour. As far as I am aware, he has done more for the disabled this century than anyone else.

Speaking as a partially-sighted person, I wonder whether more could be done. I am lucky because I am able to get a few kindly people to help me, but there are Peers who cannot get anybody to help them. Can we not do more for them?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am only too eager to do everything that I can to provide further assistance. Perhaps I may mention that great strides were made following the Wycliffe Noble Report of 1993. As they are experts in matters concerning all disabled people, they were commissioned to produce a report on behalf of both Houses and nearly all the recommendations of that report, which included provisions to help visually impaired Members, have been implemented. That has been quite an extensive operation. However, we are always on the look-out for other improvements that we can make.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will welcome the comprehensive response from my noble friend. Perhaps I can widen the Question slightly because there are Members who have different disabilities from visual impairment, such as mobility problems, deafness or being hard of hearing. Would the Minister consider how all such disabilities can be assisted if noble Lords so wish? Is the Minister further aware that the help that I have received from the House, Black Rod and his officials in relation to the Palantype machine has been absolutely marvellous? That is a fine precedent and an augury for helping all disabled noble Lords in future.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am sure that we are all very pleased about the immense progress which the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, has made and that he has endeavoured to pass on to others the benefits of the improvements which have been of such assistance to him. I have to be rather careful given that, with others among your Lordships, I am the guardian of procedure in this House, so I hesitate to follow the noble Lord in widening the scope of the Question. However, he has raised some valid points which will certainly be borne in mind.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: My Lords, as a visually impaired Peer, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question.

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I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, who I understand has full vision, has asked for the bottom step from the Chamber Floor up to the Back Benches to be made a little more shallow and less steep. Could some action be taken on that for the benefit of the visually impaired? I hope that that will be ad infinitum and will benefit the hereditary Peers also as opposed to only the life Peers.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I hesitate to say this, but the question has thrown me completely as I was not aware of that problem. However, now that, like the rest of your Lordships, I am aware of it, I shall certainly look into it to see what can be done.

School Standards in Maths and Science

3.1 p.m.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they propose to achieve in state schools other than grammar schools the standards in mathematics and science now achieved in grammar schools.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we are committed to high achievement for all children, not just the few. To pursue high standards more widely, we are ensuring that all schools set themselves challenging targets, make marked improvements in the core areas of literacy and numeracy and improve access to further and higher education.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer; but is he aware that the grammar schools, which account for only 3 per cent. of the school population of the relevant age, produce 12 per cent. of the relevant A-levels in maths and science? As the Government are working to establish specialist schools in specified subjects such as maths and science, will they, as they profess to believe in excellence for all, consider making the grammar schools into such specialist schools, based on their present performance in those subjects?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, given the highly selective nature of grammar schools, it is to be expected that they will do well in examinations. Our concern in raising standards in numeracy is to ensure that we raise standards in all schools. That is why we have established a number of initiatives on raising numeracy standards. The noble Lord asked about specialist schools. Schools with a specialty, whether in maths, arts, languages or technology, have a role to play in helping those children whose potential lies in certain areas. We see some extension of the role of specialist schools. As the noble Lord knows, we said in our manifesto that we would leave to parents the decision about the future admission arrangements of grammar schools. We have fulfilled that commitment.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is wrong and misleading to

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point to the achievements of grammar schools without also considering the achievements of the non-selective schools in grammar school areas; namely, the secondary modern schools? Can my noble friend help me by comparing the achievements in maths and science of secondary modern schools in grammar school areas with those achieved by state schools in general?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, that is an extremely interesting question. At grades A* to C, an average comprehensive with a low level of disadvantage would achieve a pass rate of 59 per cent. for maths and 62 per cent. for science. The figures for secondary moderns are 26 per cent. for maths and 28 per cent. for science. Those figures tell their own story.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, does the Minster agree--

Baroness Maddock: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Order!

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, as both noble Baronesses are on their feet and we have some time, perhaps we can hear first from the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that if grammar schools were to be abolished, the result would be neighbourhood schools, which are what we had in the past and are of no help to children who live in the wrong area?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, perhaps I may make it clear. We said in our manifesto that changes to the admission procedures of grammar schools must be decided by local parents. We have legislated for that to happen. A vote in favour of change in an admission procedure is not a vote in favour of the closure of a school; it simply requires a grammar school to amend its admission arrangements. We are leaving it to local parents to decide the future admission arrangements of such schools.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, as I think it is agreed that we now have a general shortage of maths and science teachers, what immediate steps are the Government taking to try to attract maths and science graduates into the teaching profession?

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