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Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): My Lords, I very much hope that the Minister can reassure the noble Earl that disability statements will in no way affect the academic standards or criteria of an institution. I am grateful to the noble Earl for replying to the question that I asked on Report and saying that the universities would exercise leeway. SKILL states that it knows of no institution which applies different academic criteria to disabled students as regards admissions and examinations and I look forward to the Minister's reply.

On Report (col. 278) I said that I thought that the words "physical and other support" seemed wide enough not to cause concern. I plead that it was 1 a.m. and I was not sufficiently informed as to what "other support" did or did not cover. I now know that it would not include important areas such as policies, for example, examination and admission policies; information provision, for example, what is put into a prospectus; and staffing arrangements, for example, whom disabled students can contact for advice.

SKILL points out that if the clause were amended as the noble Earl suggests the higher education institutions would be providing less information in their disability statements than would FE institutions and now LEAs. The consistency of information available to students across post-16 education would be compromised. I am sure that that is not the noble Earl's intention. Although I understand his worries I hope that he will find they are groundless. I also hope that having heard the Minister's reply he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Carter: My Lords, the noble Earl speaks with a great deal of knowledge and experience of this matter and he has made the case extremely well. There is no need to add to it and we are pleased to support him from these Benches. I am surprised that with his great facility for the English language he introduced a word such as "modularisation" into the official record.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his point and I sympathise with him but it is the name by which it is known.

Lord Henley: My Lords, we were pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, even after her pre-emptive attempt at a Bill-do-now-pass speech. We hope to hear her many more times during the course of Third Reading. I believe, and I am sure that all noble Lords will agree, that there is scarcely a need for someone of the distinction of the noble Earl to declare an interest. He is far too well known and appreciated in higher education circles for that to be necessary. I echo what he said about our earlier meetings. I and my noble friend Lord Mackay were grateful to have an opportunity to discuss these matters outside the House—or rather inside the House but outside the Chamber—and for notice of his intention to table this amendment. The noble Earl, quite rightly, is seeking certain assurances on the effects of these clauses and I hope that my comments will be of assistance.

The noble Earl is concerned that the clauses might constitute a threat to a university's academic autonomy. He is concerned, for example, that their effect might be to require a university to change its admissions arrangements, or modify its course structures, or alter its assessment programmes in order to meet the needs of disabled students. I am happy to state the Government's considered view that they are not meant to do so and that they do not do so. Nor is it the Government's intention that the disability statements should be used to put pressure on the universities or the higher education funding councils to change policies on the curriculum or admissions. Such matters are quite properly academic matters which are the responsibility of the institutions to determine. Naturally, we hope that universities will be as receptive as they can to the needs of disabled students, and we believe that the need to set out information about their policies will help focus their attention on this issue. But it will remain for universities to determine their own policies.

The noble Earl is also concerned at the possible burden on universities of producing the disability statements. As he mentioned tonight and on Report, he envisages the possibility of very complex statements being required, which map every course in an institution against every possible disability of prospective students. I am happy to state the Government's considered view that we do not envisage disability statements being of that nature. I must temper that comment in one respect because, as the noble Earl is aware, it is not the responsibility of the Government to specify the information content of the statements. That is the responsibility of the higher education funding councils.

I can, however, inform the House that the Higher Education Funding Council for England has already established a group to consider the nature of the

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information to be contained in disability statements, and it is clear that the group is not contemplating statements of that nature. The group believes that it will be able to specify information which will both be helpful to disabled students and the council but which will not impose an undue burden on universities. A representative of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, which has been in correspondence with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, is on the group, and I believe I am right in saying that the CVCP is working constructively with the group. Further, the HEFCE intends to consult institutions generally about the specification of information in disability statements, once they have the advice of their group.

With those assurances, I hope the noble Earl will withdraw his amendment.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that most helpful reply. I was aware of what was being done in the Higher Education Funding Council for England and, as the Minister said, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals is not in any way dismayed by what is going on there.

I am very grateful to him for his comments about the ability to avoid totally exhaustive and exhausting statements. I am particularly grateful to him for his comments about academic judgment and about the absence of any pressure on the funding councils to bring about change. What he says is very fair but he hopes that the universities will be as receptive as they can to the needs of disabled students. In return, I give the Minister that assurance with all good will, thank him very warmly and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 34:

Page 23, line 45, at end insert—
("(7) The Education Act 1944 is amended as set out in subsections (8) and (9).
(8) In section 41 (functions of local education authorities in respect of further education), after subsection (2) insert—
"(2A) It shall be the duty of every local education authority to publish disability statements at such intervals as may be prescribed.
(2B) For the purposes of subsection (2A) above—
"disability statement" means a statement containing information of a prescribed description about the provision of facilities for further education made by the local education authority in respect of persons who are disabled persons for the purposes of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995; and
"prescribed" means prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State."
(9) In section 41(7), (8) and (11), for "this section" substitute "subsections (1) and (6) above".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 32. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 27 [Further and higher education of disabled persons: Scotland]:

[Amendment No. 35 not moved.]

Clause 28 [Taxi accessibility regulations]:

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Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 36:

Page 24, line 37, leave out ("and") and insert ("or while seated on a swivel seat;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 36 I shall consider also Amendments Nos. 37 and 38. Clause 28 enables the Secretary of State to make regulations governing the accessibility of disabled people to taxis. Perhaps I may briefly explain my amendments. The new provision is an enabling provision, making what in other circumstances are called "construction and use regulations". They will govern the way in which taxis must be built for carrying disabled people with or without wheelchairs and the way in which drivers of taxis are to help disabled people to use those taxis.

The regulations do not specifically deal with disabled people travelling on a swivel seat, preferably next door to the driver, with the wheelchair to be folded up and put elsewhere in the vehicle. Therefore, I have provided for that to be done. The amendments are self-explanatory and noble Lords will see that I have added a new paragraph (c) to Clause 28(1) so that the regulations will provide:

    "for providing space elsewhere on the taxi for the wheelchairs of those disabled persons who decide to sit on swivel seats".

I put forward these amendments in a spirit of compromise and in order to achieve that greater flexibility which everyone wants and which the Minister was kind enough to stress that the Government want. However, the Bill as it is drafted does not require that to be achieved. That is the sad thing about it.

I should point out also that besides dealing with the construction of taxis in the future, the regulations will prescribe the ways in which drivers of taxis are to help disabled people to use the taxis. By a strange drafting method, to that extent Clause 28 overlaps with Clause 31. Clause 31 imposes similar duties on drivers of taxis carrying passengers in wheelchairs. But in doing so Clause 31 deals with those who choose to sit in the passenger seat instead of in a wheelchair and have the wheelchair carried in the taxi. That is very good.

My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish kindly wrote to me yesterday as follows:

    "I fully appreciate your concerns about the needs of the large number of disabled people who do not need or wish to travel in a wheelchair. However, Clause 31(3)(c) already makes provision for the stowage of an unoccupied wheelchair and it is also our intention to address the needs of that group of passengers in the taxi accessibility regulations, which will specify a number of design features. Swivel seats are one important mobility aid we will be looking at".

That is absolutely splendid but it is not part of the Bill and would not bind a Secretary of State in the years to come.

It is a very strangely drafted collection of clauses. We must make absolutely sure that the obligations under Clause 28 whereby the Secretary of State is to make regulations are consistent with the provisions of Clause 31, which are more flexible. We do not want the construction and use regulations to defeat the purpose of Clause 31. That is why I thought it necessary to table these amendments.

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There is a further important point that nowhere in the Bill is there a duty to provide swivel seats. As far as I know, they are not mentioned at all in the Bill either for those taxis which are not black cabs but are saloon cars or for any taxis.

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