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Column 740Thomason, Roy
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Timothy Wood and Mr. David Lightbown.
Column 740Question accordingly negatived.
`.--(1) It shall be the duty of an education authority to take all reasonable steps to ensure that a disabled person (including any disabled person who is a minor) shall not, for a reason which relates to the disabled person's disability, be treated less favourably than a person without the disability in being given access to the education which it provides.
(2) The duty under subsection (1) above extends to education and library boards in Northern Ireland.
(3) It shall be the duty of any statutory or incorporated body which provides higher or further education to take all reasonable steps to ensure that a disabled person shall not, for a reason which relates to the disabled person's disability, be treated less favourably than a person without the disability in being given access to the education which it provides.
(4) Schedule ( Consequential Amendments Relating to Access to Education ) shall have effect in relation to education authorities and bodies.
(5) It shall be unlawful for any charitable body or incorporated body of a kind prescribed under section 12 which provides education or educational services to treat a disabled person less favourably, for a reason which relates to the disabled person's disability, than a person without the disability in giving access to the education or educational services which it provides.'.-- [Mr. Tom Clarke.] Brought up, and read the First time.
Column 7416.45 pm
Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss also the following: New clause 7-- Code of Practice: Education -- `.--(1) The Secretary of State may issue a code of practice containing such practical guidance as he considers appropriate with a view to eliminating discrimination against children with special educational needs in the field of education.
(2) The Secretary of State may from time to time revise the whole or any part of a code of practice and re-issue it.
(3) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), a code of practice may include practical guidance as to--
(a) the circumstances in which it would be reasonable to place a child with special educational needs in a special school;
(b) the overall planning of education for children with special educational needs; and
(c) how access to education for children with special educational needs may be ensured.
(4) It shall be the duty of a Local Education Authority in England and Wales, the Funding Agency for Schools, the Schools Funding Council for Wales, an Education Authority in Scotland and governing bodies of schools to have regard to the provisions of any code of practice issued pursuant to this section.
(5) A code of practice issued pursuant to this section shall be admissible in evidence in any proceedings before a court.
(6) The Secretary of State shall publish any code of practice for the time being in force.
(7) In this section "special educational needs" shall have the same meaning as in section 156 of the Education Act 1993.'. New clause 8-- Further and higher education --
`.--(1) The Secretary of State may issue codes of practice containing such practical guidance as he considers appropriate with a view to--
(a) eliminating discrimination against disabled persons in the field of further and higher education;
(b) encouraging good practice in relation to the further and higher education of disabled persons.
(2) The Secretary of State may from time to time revise the whole or any part of a code of practice issued under subsection (1) and re-issue it.
(3) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) a code of practice issued under the provisions of this section may include practical guidance as to circumstances in which it would be reasonable, having regard in particular to the costs involved, for a further or higher education establishment to be expected to make adjustments in favour of a disabled person.
(4) Further and higher education establishment authorities shall have regard to any code of practice in the exercise of their powers.
(5) A code of practice shall be admissible as evidence in any proceedings under this Act before a county sheriff court.
(6) If any provision of a code of practice appears to a court to be relevant to any question arising in any proceedings under this Act it shall be taken into account in determining that question. (7) In this section "code of practice" means a code issued by the Secretary of State under this section, and includes a code of practice which has been revised and reissued.'.
Amendment No. 47, in clause 12, page 9, leave out lines 17 to 41. Amendment No. 5, in page 9, line 17, leave out `to the contrary'. Amendment No. 6, in page 9, line 18, leave out `does not apply' and insert `applies'.
Amendment No. 10, in page 9, leave out lines 30 to 33.
Amendment No. 11, in page 9, leave out lines 34 to 39.
Amendment No. 4, a new schedule--
Column 742Consequential Amendments Relating to Access to Education---- Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (c. 44)
1. After section 60 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (function of education authority in relation to children and young persons with certain special educational needs); insert--
"Education of children and young persons with special needs in schools which are not special schools
60A. It shall be the duty of an education authority in respect of a child with special educational needs who belongs to their area (in accordance with section 23(3) of this Act), and who receives school education, to secure that the young person is educated in a school which is not a special school, unless that is incompatible with the wishes of the young person or, where the education authority are satisfied that the young person is not capable of expressing his views for the purposes of this section, his parent.".
Further and Higher Education Act 1992 (c. 13)
2. In Schedule 2 to the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, in paragraph (j), the words "which prepares them for entry to another course falling within paragraphs (d) to (h) above" shall be omitted.
Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992 (c. 37) 3. In section 6 of the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992 (further education to which section 1 applies), in subsection (1) after paragraph (f), insert--
"(g) is designed to teach independent living and communication skills to persons having learning difficulties".
Education Act 1993 (c. 35)
4. In section 160 of the Education Act 1993 (qualified duty to secure education of children with special educational needs in ordinary schools)--
(a) in subsection (1), the words "if the conditions mentioned in subsection (2) below are satisfied" shall be omitted;
(b) subsection (2) shall be omitted.'.
Mr. Clarke: The purpose of new clause 3 is to bring education within the purview of the Bill. The Bill makes provision for tackling discrimination in employment, which we have discussed and which will be discussed again in another place, and in access to goods and services. We all agree that discrimination in such matters should be tackled. The rights of disabled people as workers and as consumers are of great importance to their lives, but the Government appear not to recognise the need to open the gateways of opportunity for disabled people to take a full part in employment and in our social and cultural life.
The Government have failed to open three gateways of opportunity, which all need to be included in the Bill. Those gateways are education, access to information and means of transport. All of them are dealt with in new clauses and amendments and we think that it is logical that the first of them to be debated should be education. The crucial principle that we wish to establish is that no school or college should be permitted to exclude disabled pupils or students on the grounds of their disability or to offer them a second-rate service. That is why we seek to require local education authorities and other bodies which provide education to take reasonable steps to ensure that a disabled child or adult is not treated less favourably than a person without disability in being given access to the education that they provide. That is not a terribly radical proposition.
Column 743At first sight, it would seem reasonable to expect a Bill designed to deal with discrimination against disabled people to include education as one of the most influential services in the lives of all of us and to make specific proposals to ensure equality of access to education. Yet the Government have not done so. Perhaps, in the context of a mounting crisis of confidence and resources in the Government's schools policy, that is not so surprising. However, Ministers have argued that they have specifically excluded education not because there is a general crisis in education policy but because of the progress which they claim has already been made in improving the position of disabled pupils and students.
Ministers argued in Committee that education was excluded because enough was being done, particularly in terms of the Education Act 1993 and the new code of practice. That argument was explicit, but what was implicit in the White Paper published in January, which discussed the situation brought about by the Act, was that the Government had very little to say about what more needed to be done. If things were as rosy as Ministers suggest, there would be no need to exclude education from the Bill. Educational establishments which complied with the existing legislation would have passed with flying colours the tests of accessibility and equal treatment as set out in the Bill. That is not the situation at all. Ministers have excluded education because they know that far too many schools and other establishments simply do not comply with the standards set for other services in the Bill.
The only improvement offered in the White Paper was to extend part M of the new building regulations on disabled access to schools in England and Wales. Those regulations apply to further and higher education colleges and to schools in Scotland and in Northern Ireland, so the innovation would merely bring English and Welsh schools into line with what is required in the vast majority of new buildings of all types.
The reality is that building new schools is not a key feature of the Government's education policy, and the issue of physical access to school buildings must be dealt with in relation to existing buildings. That seems to be a not unreasonable proposition, particularly if the Government accept their responsibility for funding our schools system, which is crucial.
Many pupils with motor impairments could gain access to the curriculum enjoyed by other pupils if they could only gain safe access to the school building itself. Relatively simple changes involving the provision of ramps and lifts and the suitable adaptation of toilets and internal fire doors could transform the situation. For pupils with impaired vision, suitable illumination and painting could make all the difference.
A good deal can be done within classrooms with even fewer cost implications. Low benches in school laboratories and technical rooms could be provided, as could additional lighting and angled writing surfaces for those with a visual impairment. Changes could be made to improve the acoustics of classrooms designed without the needs of pupils with hearing difficulties in mind. School pupils should be able to benefit from special tools and technology available for those who have difficulty with the standard issue tools. Those can range from simple innovations, such as rulers with raised markings, to sophisticated electronic control systems. The current situation is simply not good enough.
Column 744Scope--the organisation previously known as the Spastics Society--carried out a survey in 1993 which found that many schools were either physically inaccessible or had not made the kind of simple low-cost adaptations that are required. A majority of secondary schools and nearly two thirds of primary schools had no suitably adapted toilets. One secondary school in 14 and one primary school in seven was completely inaccessible to wheelchair users--children, parents and teachers alike. That continuing inadequacy of provision must be addressed, but it appears to have been ignored by the Government in the White Paper, in the consultation document and--above all--in the Bill.
The Opposition recognise that the Education Act 1993 was a step in the right direction, but we do not believe that including education in the Bill would cut across the Act in any way. On the contrary--according to Ministers themselves--the intention and spirit of the present measure is to reinforce, rather than undermine, the Act.
The Government have made provision both in the 1993 Act and in the existing Bill to ensure that costs are kept under control. If education is included in the Bill--as it should be,
comprehensively--education providers would be protected from undue costs by the existing legislation, which requires them to have due regard to the effective use of resources, and by the test of reasonableness applied to other service providers under the Bill. Including schools in the terms of the Bill would not add unreasonable costs, and certainly not unreasonable extra costs, to the present troubles of the Department for Education. It would ensure that cuts could not be made which would have adverse and compelling effects on the educational opportunities of disabled pupils and that, in my view, is no bad thing.
As well as physical access to schools, the education of children with special needs is affected by the exclusion of education from the Bill. Here again, Ministers have taken the view that the 1993 Act is sufficient, and that it is therefore legitimate to withhold the right to non-discrimination from children, but the evidence simply does not bear that out.
We believe that the parents and guardians of children with special educational needs should have the right to choose between mainstream and special schooling. The 1993 Act provides such a right, but with qualifications which in practice allow enormous variations between one education authority and another. The Department for Education figures for 1992 showed that the proportion of children at special schools was five times higher in Lambeth and East Sussex than in Cornwall and Barnsley. That discrepancy is too great to be explained in terms of different levels of disability, and it shows that the opportunities for mainstream schooling vary greatly from one part of the country to another.
The 1993 Act and the code of practice may have improved access to mainstream schools, but they do not place an obligation on education authorities or grant-maintained schools to improve access and support for children with special educational needs. There is therefore no incentive for those authorities that traditionally placed large numbers of children in special schools to increase their investment in mainstream schools, by providing support for children with special educational needs.
Column 745Our new clause and amendments will require local education authorities and the Funding Agency for Schools to plan for progressive improvements in access and support, without denying special schooling to children whose parents choose to follow that course. They will build on the positive aspects of the 1993 Act and give more disabled young people an opportunity to share the experience of school with other young children, to the benefit of both groups.
The Government's White Paper was even weaker on further and higher education than on schools. They, too, are excluded from the Bill, which is extraordinary. The White Paper could only say:
"the Government now intends to set in hand a programme to review the effectiveness of the current legislation".
If Ministers genuinely want to test the effectiveness of present legislation, what could be better than to include further and higher education in the Bill that they have devised, and see whether it passes the examination?
The plain fact is that, since 1992, the Further Education Funding Council for England, the FEFC for Wales and the Scottish Education Department have been under an obligation to provide for disabled students, and rightly so, but colleges are under no such obligation. Disabled students often find themselves unable to attend their local further education college, and are forced to travel up to 60 miles a day to find a college that is willing to accommodate them, with no guarantee that the extra travel costs will be met.
There is no guarantee that the necessary support services will be in place as a consequence of the Bill. For example, less than one further education college in five has a policy to provide deaf children with education and only one in four employs a tutor with responsibility for deaf students. Many further education colleges provide no support whatsoever for deaf students.
In higher education, the situation is even less satisfactory. Neither the institutions nor the funding councils are duty bound to offer equal opportunities to disabled students--a disgraceful state of affairs with which the Bill does not deal. In the past two years, special funding initiatives have certainly improved the situation, but have affected less than half of all higher education institutions.
Far too many universities and colleges do not cater for physical access by disabled students, or fail to provide the necessary material or professional support, which is totally unacceptable in a modern age. Schools, colleges and universities provide a gateway to employment--to jobs --and can liberate disabled people from dependence and enable them to play a full part in adult life, as they are entitled to do. It is therefore essential that they should be open unreservedly to all and the Government should not be afraid to subject their education policies to the same test of adequacy and reasonableness that they apply to the other services covered by the Bill.
I have moved the new clause and the amendments in that spirit of promoting real and genuine equality of opportunity for disabled children and adults.