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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am afraid that I shall not satisfy the noble Baroness. Amendments Nos. 85 and 132 would remove from the face of the Bill the scope for institutions to take into account the wishes of a disabled student, or of the parent of a disabled pupil, to have his or her disability treated as confidential in determining whether or not to make a reasonable adjustment.
In Committee, I tried to set out as clearly as possible what effect these provisions deliver, and each of the subsections that these amendments delete are closely related to the subsections which directly precede and follow them. I have also written to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on these points.
I repeat: we want to make it completely clear to schools and institutions that in discharging their duties under Clauses 12 and 27 to make reasonable adjustments they should take into account any request
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a serious amendment. We had an extensive debate on this issue in Committee. I am pleased to say that several noble Lords across all parties spoke in support of the amendment--so much so that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, promised that he would look at the matter again. I am taking the noble Lord at his word. I believe that he has done nothing but keep the towel round his head in considering these amendments. I hope that at this late hour he will give me a promise to bring forward an amendment on behalf of the Government to accede to the request.
The issue is simple. In working out what reasonable steps to take in order to limit and avoid disadvantage for a disabled pupil, a school will need to take into account the nature of the pupil's disability. The full details of that disability will need to be made known to the governors. In so doing, it may well be that the disabled person will wish for those details to be kept confidential. This applies to both schools and colleges. Provision is made in this clause for such a request for confidentiality to be made and to be respected. But under the clause as drafted that request is only to be made by the parents of a disabled pupil.
It is my contention and that of many noble Lords that the pupil himself should also have the right to make a request for confidentiality; and that request should be respected. That applies particularly if the pupil is an older pupil, a teenager perhaps, but also one as young as 10 or 11. There are young people of that age who do not really want to talk to their parents about these matters. It could be that a self-confident child would much rather that a request were made on his own account, even if his parents were willing to make it for him. It could be that an embarrassed child
In Committee, the noble Lord, in defence of his arguments to oppose the amendment, cited that young people do not have the capacity to make such an application. I have to say that that statement came 24 hours after the Government supported the notion of children as young as 11 being allowed to have their request for the morning-after pill kept confidential not only from the people around them, but also from their parents. Therefore it will not do today for the noble Lord to say that young people are not capable of knowing whether or not they want confidentiality.
This is a serious amendment because this is probably the most sensitive area for young people, not only those of secondary school age and those going through puberty, but also the older ones going through further and higher education colleges. If they wish for confidentiality, then up to the age of 16, when parental consent would be needed, that request should be acceded to. I beg to move.
We discussed this issue at length in Committee. My noble friend agreed to look at the issue again. We have done so. We remain firm on the principle that the parents act in the best interests of their children. However, we believe it is right that account be taken of disabled children's requests to keep their disability confidential, provided the child making the request is of sufficient age, maturity and understanding.
We accept in principle the spirit of the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness and will therefore come back at Third Reading to make it possible. In the light of those remarks I hope the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
It was a serious amendment. I am grateful for the support we received in Committee. I believe the weight of that support was probably the most influential because the Government had clearly thought about this matter before I spoke this evening. I am deeply grateful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment in eager anticipation that I shall see an even more effective one at the next stage of this Bill.
Amendment No. 87 merely picks up a discussion we had in Committee on the meaning of "environment". Various comments were made by the Minister to the effect that "environment" was intended to include various bits and pieces of equipment that may be lying around, like systems to help deaf people understand what was being said and possibly other systems to support other kinds of disabled people. It seemed to me at the time that "environment" did not include everything that the Minister intended it should. This is merely a helpful suggestion as to how that definition can be expanded in the Bill. I beg to move.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the amendment seeks to extend the coverage of the planning duty and to guarantee total accessibility of schools within a prescribed period. Amendment No. 87 is unnecessary, as the provision of some equipment will already be covered by the planning duty. For instance, LEAs may decide to plan for the provision of specialist furniture, such as sloping desks, special seats, variable height desks or the installation of a soundfield system. For children with SEN, special educational provision will include auxiliary aids and equipment.
Planning to improve access to facilities for educational purposes is at the heart of planning duty. In order to improve access to facilities, an LEA may decide to install appropriate lighting or blinds for visually impaired pupils or lay appropriate carpeting to improve the acoustics of a room for pupils with hearing impairments. For those reasons, Amendment No. 87 is unnecessary. On Amendment No. 88--
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