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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am not sure that I understand the noble Earl's point about students estranged from their parents. It is important that we find ways of encouraging all students who wish to go to university to do so. I shall pick up that point in writing and seek clarification from the noble Earl.

On high-salaried jobs, we have said that those who do not earn salaries of 15,000 plus will not pay back anything. That does not have a penalty attached to it. I am pleased to say that our teaching staff are able to earn substantially more than that.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords—

Lord Ackner: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, I suggest that we hear from the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, who has been trying to ask a question.

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Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, despite what the Minister says and despite what the Government say and do, does the noble Baroness agree that in the present circumstances there are literally hundreds of young people who are capable of taking a university degree who will simply not be able to afford to go to university? Unless there is a fundamental change, a very serious situation will arise affecting young people who wish to go to university.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, at the moment having to pay fees up-front is a deterrent for young people who may wish to go to university and it is something that they have to consider. The fundamental point relating to our proposals is that no one pays until after they have completed the course and the fee repayment is contingent on earning the salary that I have identified of 15,000 plus. I believe that that is a realistic way of accepting that we need to fund universities properly and well. We need to look to those who will benefit from university provision, but we need to do it in a way that accepts and appreciates that we want people to benefit when they feel they are able to do so.

Disabled Children's Services: Audit Commission Report

3.17 p.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they will respond to the recommendations in the Audit Commission report on services for disabled children.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, we shall take account of the recommendations in the Audit Commission's report when developing and implementing government policy and programmes. In particular, through the development of the Children's National Service Framework, we shall address the main recommendation to set national standards for disabled children's services.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply. The report is most welcome and very challenging. Can the Minister say what will be the role of the Minister for Children in monitoring progress of the recommendations?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the Minister of State for Children, my right honourable friend Margaret Hodge, and I form the directorate in the department responsible for our policies on implementation from the Green Paper. In that capacity, the Minister for Children will look carefully at the Audit Commission report and will determine the bringing together of our services for all children, with specific

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reference to children who need additional support to ensure that they are working together effectively.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, given the Audit Commission's comment that despite some extra initiatives,

    "Disabled young people and their families are, in general, poorly served and remain at risk of social exclusion",

can the Minister say how they intend to ensure that all those responsible in future consult disabled children and their parents on priorities and individual needs? What is being done to ensure that those who are in contact with disabled families are trained in good inter-personal and communication skills?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has raised some important points that arose from the Audit Commission report. I pay tribute to the work that was done. One way in which we have been addressing the needs of disabled children is by inviting Francine Bates, who is the chief executive of Contact A Family—a charity that I am sure is well known to your Lordships for the work that it does on working together, communications and training, which are so important. That external working group has been feeding into the national service framework, which is now a joint Department of Health/Department for Education and Skills initiative. Those issues will be carefully considered in that work.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, does the noble Baroness recall past reports by the commission on disablement services that have been perceptive, accurate and practical? Does she agree that the Audit Commission carries out a most useful function in that field?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord that the Audit Commission has played an important part in considering the issues that affect some of our most vulnerable children.

Lord Addington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the most damning parts of the report states that it is those who shout loudest and in the right ears who get help? What short-term measures does she have in mind to ensure that everyone knows quickly what they are entitled to, which is one of the major considerations in the report?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, as the noble Lord may know, one thing that I am pleased that we have been able to do in the earlier pilots is to provide families with disabled children with information on precisely what kind of service they can and should expect. As we roll that out, it will make asubstantial difference—especially for families with children who are very young and have a disability with

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which the family is not familiar. That is a fundamental, crucial part of what we will be doing.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware of my interest in this policy area. How do the new children's trusts relate to the services for disabled children—especially in regard to the co-ordination of those services?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend's long interest in the issue. Children's trusts will indeed be important, because they will have the key role of bringing together services for disabled children and their families. We have launched a number of pathfinders. I am pleased to say that most of them include services for children with special educational needs and disabilities; a significant minority of them focuses specifically on those children. As part of the evaluation of children's trusts, we shall be directly considering what impact they have had on the lives of children with disabilities.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, has there been a verifiable improvement in the quality and specific detail of statements for children with special educational needs?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I find that a difficult question to answer because I am not entirely certain what the noble Baroness is looking for. What I can say about statements is that parents are beginning to have more confidence in a system that means that they can find the right quality of support for their child or children within the settings that they want—not always requiring a statement; but where a statement is necessary, they are able to determine its value more effectively. I hope that that answers the point raised by the noble Baroness.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, the report states that at present we have a unique opportunity to improve policy for children. We also have the service framework; but there is a huge gap between the service framework for children and that for disabled adults. What will the Minister do at this unique time to consider the long-standing problem of young children who move from children's to adult services, often losing themselves in between?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, as always, the noble Baroness puts her finger on an important area: the transition from childhood to adult life. As well as preparing our children for that adult life, we must recognise how difficult that transition can be. For that reason, that will form part of our work on the special educational needs action programme, but also of the work that I and colleagues perform in our links with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that services—for example, the Learning and Skills Council—effectively recognise the needs of those young people.

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US Ships Decommissioning: Environment Agency Role

3.25 p.m.

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What role the Environment Agency played in approving the decommissioning of United States ships by Able UK in Hartlepool.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the Environment Agency, as the competent authority, has now made clear to the contracting parties and to relevant United States authorities that shipment of the vessels to Hartlepool cannot be completed consistent with international rules and community law.

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