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Lord Henley: My Lords, perhaps I may start by saying that, whatever the noble Earl feels, his amendments would in fact limit the information that could be provided in disability statements to information about purely physical or other support services. Perhaps I may also say how grateful I am to the noble Earl for his welcome for my return to such matters.
As I understand it, the purpose of the amendment is to exclude information about academic matters upon the grounds of possible interference in academic autonomy. In Committee the noble Earl sought to limit the scope of disability statements to physical facilities. But the amendment now before us provides for a broader scope to include physical and support facilities. It would, however, appear that, even with that broader scope, the effect would be to exclude information about access to various courses or types of course which disabled students might find helpful.
The noble Earl referred to the comments made both in Committee and in the letter from my noble friend Lord Mackay. Obviously, I regret it if those comments have given rise to any misunderstanding. My noble friend made it clear in his speech in Committee that the Government considered that disability statements should go wider than simply including information about physical facilities. In referring to physical facilities later in that debate, it was not my noble friend's intention to imply that disability statements should deal only with
Obviously we wish to be as helpful as possible to all disabled students. We feel that the disability statements should assist such students to understand what provision will be available to them. By limiting the information required, the amendment could reduce the possible value of such statementsfor no good reason, it seems to the Government.
I understand that the noble Earl's prime concern is that the provision of academic information could possibly intrude on an institution's academic autonomy. I do not see how that can be the case. It is certainly not meant to be the case. Any university is in the business of informing potential students, disabled or otherwise, what the university has to offer. The information in the disability statements is meant to be helpful to that client group. As my noble friend made clear in Committee - I am happy to restate this - it will be for the institution to decide what provision it wishes to offer. In all honesty, I do not see how that could lead to interference in the subject matter of the course, as the noble Earl fears. I hope that he will accept my assurance that that is very much the case and that his amendments are therefore not necessary.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but I should like to reply first to the noble Baroness. I stress that I can speak only for myself. I have no ministerial authority in this - in fact, nobody has. Obviously, if one accepts a student, one undertakes a duty to that student. One is therefore bound to do everything that one can to get that student a decent education. That is a duty and it is within the limits of possibility, which must be enlarged (if they can be), and binding.
There is a difficulty about altering a syllabus in relation to just one single student. We shall have to think about syllabuses in general as well as in particular. But that difficulty gets easier to overcome because of the way syllabuses are now changing. They are now incorporating a much wider range of options and
The Minister's reply makes me feel that the plot thickens. He says that my amendment would limit what the Government may do. Of course, any form of words necessarily limits what can be done under them. The question is: does it limit it to what the department wants, or does it rule out something that the department wants to do and, if so, what?
The Minister referredI think that I have his words rightto "information on access to courses or types of courses". That puzzles me because it seems that the Government are trying either to do something that they cannot do or to do something that they should not do. Are the Government asking universities to list courses which are or are not open to people with disabilities? All of us who have followed this Bill know how impossible it is to do that. There is no such thing as a course open to people with disabilities, full stop. So, if that is what the Department for Education and Employment wants, even if the full power of parliamentary sovereignty requires it and everyone in universities does everything they can to co-operate with it, it still cannot happen. If that is what is wanted, I am afraid that it really will not work.
However, if what is wanted is to try to produce a whole lot of detailed information about course content leading to proposals to change course content, that would be an interference with academic judgment and would be extremely unwelcome. As far as I can see, the department is trying either to do the impossible or to do the improper. If that is not the case - I may perfectly well be wrong about it -it would be nice to know exactly what it wants, and when we know what it wants, we may perhaps be able to accommodate it. I hope that we shall. We cannot do any more with this tonight, so we shall have to discuss the matter over the Recess. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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