Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Hayes: I am grateful for your indulgence, Sir David, as I joined the Committee one minute late. That prevented me from hearing my hon. Friend's opening remarks, but I am sure that I am none the worse for that. I do not want to stretch your indulgence to its famously broad limits, but if I had been here I might have heard a quote from an even more obscure source than Deng Xiaoping.

The clause brings us to the issue of further and higher education. My contribution is, once again, in the form of a series of questions. We are rightly addressing the issue of access, which is clearly of fundamental importance if we are to avoid discrimination. It is an even more complex issue than in schools because of the nature of the experience that people enjoy in further and higher education. There is a need to access more buildings because the nature of the educational process demands more movement on the part of students. Those issues can be addressed with the right sensitivity and the right will, both of which are increasingly apparent.

However, I am concerned by issues that are implicit in any view of discrimination in further and higher education. My questions revolve around four or five particular matters. What judgment has been made about the need to adjust arrangements for work placements, which can form an implicit part of students' courses? What judgment has been made about the need to address the issue of transport, which, given the nature of further and higher education, seems to be vital? As I said, students may have to move between many sites or be required to carry out fieldwork. What view are the Government taking on that subject? How will materials that are implicit to students' courses be provided in alternative formats?

Mr. Boswell: My hon. Friend's reference to moving around sites interested me. It would be helpful if the Minister would consider a situation in which work is being done outside formal education provision, for example, on a building site. Which duties, if any, would cover that?

Mr. Hayes: I alluded to that problem when I discussed work placements, because there are many vocational courses in further education. Whether facilities will be constructed to allow disabled students to benefit in the same way as non-disabled students is worthy of further comment.

The provision of information materials in appropriate formats for people with a range of disabilities has cost and legal implications under the Bill. I am interested in hearing from the Minister about the judgment that has been made on that and on the more straightforward matters of communication support and special equipment. If those facilities are not provided, that could be considered cause for a legitimate claim of discrimination. It would be discriminatory to put a student in a position in which they could not fulfil their potential, and were not able to take advantage of a college place or make best use of it. I am sure that Ministers have considered such issues, but they are highly pertinent to this part of the Bill. One would not want cases to be brought unduly, but if we are to make the intentions of this part of the Bill a reality to people in further and higher education, we need to explore those fundamentally important matters. Lord Rix raised some of those issues when the Bill was debated in the other place. I have not dealt with them as fully as he did, but I hope that the Minister will have had a chance to consider his comments and has arrived at the Committee with reasoned responses.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Along the same lines as my hon. Friends, I would like to ask the Minister a question. She, like me, is a skilled linguist. As a former student of Serbo-Croat and Russian, I have a great interest in language teaching at university. As Ministers will appreciate, an integral part of language teaching is often that students spend a year—or three months— away in another country? What provisions will a university, or other institution, have to make to ensure that the correct facilities are available to a disabled people in such a situation. That may not be a problem in western European countries. However, I do not remember from my time at Belgrade university that disabled facilities were high on the list of priorities—perhaps they would be even lower today. My college sent students to Minsk, Moscow, Bucharest and Budapest. How far do universities and colleges have a liability in that respect? The matter may be dealt with by clause 28, and I apologise if that is the case. However, I wanted to raise the issue because if a year abroad were denied to a language student, it could be argued that they were being disadvantaged.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith): I welcome you, Sir David, to your position presiding over the Committee. The hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) was right when he said that, on the whole, the proceedings have been carried out amicably, so I hope that you will not be called on to be firm with us. I think that potentially this could be your last opportunity to chair a Committee.

The Chairman: It could.

Jacqui Smith: I hope that it will be an enjoyable experience that will leave you with happy memories.

As the hon. Member for Daventry pointed out, we are now discussing the clause relating to post-16-year-olds. It is an important part of the Bill that extends the need not to discriminate against students in further and higher education institutions to the arena of lifelong learning. We have covered all the issues concerning schools, but the purpose of the Bill is to increase the civil rights of students with disabilities, and that could not be achieved without widening the scope to cover all post-16 activities, including further and higher education institutions, adult education and youth services.

The clause introduces a new section into the DDA making it unlawful for further and higher education institutions to discriminate against disabled students in the arrangements for admission, exclusion or suspension of students, and in the services that they provide to students. The hon. Member for Daventry referred to the scope of part III of the DDA and of the Bill. The important point is that the Bill makes the position much more comprehensive. The hon. Gentleman was right in saying that the problem is that some of the activities experienced by post-16 students are exempt from any legislation to prevent discrimination. The important point about the Bill is that we can be confident that the activities of post-16 students will be covered by part III of the DDA or the Bill. I shall respond later to some of the detailed questions about those provisions.

Subsection (11) defines student services, and it worth reminding the Committee of the breadth of that definition in response to some of the concerns expressed. Student services are

    ``services of any description which are provided wholly or mainly for students.''

They include the provision of education and services related to teaching and learning as well as wider services such as accommodation, careers and welfare services, and leisure facilities that institutions offer mainly to students. The Secretary of State has a power under subsection (12) to clarify by regulation what is a student service and what is not.

The clause also identifies the institutions covered by those duties which are defined in subsection (6) and, for Scotland, subsection (7). The relevant institutions in England and Wales are those in the publicly funded higher education and further education sectors as defined by the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. Relevant publicly funded institutions in Scotland are defined by reference to the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992 and the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.

The hon. Gentleman referred to private institutions and began to answer his own question. They will generally be covered by part III of the DDA rather than the new duties introduced by the clause.

Mr. Boswell: I assure the Minister that I am not trying to trip her up on a quibble, but when institutions, albeit private in the sense that they are not within the normal remit of the higher education sector, are in receipt of some public funds--for example, the Learning and Skills Council--it may be not be clear which student is receiving what and whether a contribution is made to overheads and so on. Will it be possible to work out which duties bind, or will an understanding have to be reached in borderline cases?

Jacqui Smith: It is the institution that is important and I was coming to the point that subsections (6)(c) and (7)(e) give the Secretary of State power to designate by order institutions that receive some public funds in England and Wales and, after consulting Scottish Ministers, in Scotland. Those subsections cover some institutions that might not fall clearly into the previous definitions that I outlined but which would be wholly or partly funded by public money. Considering the legislation's intentions, such institutions should be covered. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

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I come now to some of the specific points about services. Many hon. Members will be sorry that they never had the opportunity to learn Latin from the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes). However, were he to have provided his services to the public, I can reassure him that he would have been caught, as a private provider of tuition, by part III of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The point is that he would have been offering a service to the public.

Mr. Boswell: First, even if someone were to offer something to the public and not charge, as I am sure that my hon. Friend, out of the kindness of his heart, would do, there would be a potential duty. Members of Parliament do not normally charge the people who come to our surgeries, and we would still be bound. Unless I missed it, the second point that the Minister owes the Committee is to say whether, in practice, the part III duties are more, less or equally onerous than those under part IV. Do they have the same effect?

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