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Lord Tope: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for a very helpful reply. I reassure him straightaway that we still warmly welcome this part of the Bill. It was certainly not the intention of either of these amendments to undermine its provisions, but to extend them to a wider section of people. I shall consider what he has said and see how better we can achieve that at a later stage.

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, asked me whether I thought that smaller employers really would employ 16 and 17 year-olds. I acknowledge that there are many employers, perhaps mostly larger ones but by no means only those, who already make very good and proper provision for the further education and training of young employees. But that does not apply to all. I acknowledge that there are difficulties particularly for smaller employers. But if progress is to be made towards achieving a better educated, trained and skilled workforce for the flexible markets that we talk about there must be some stick as well as carrot. Those are the employers whom we should encourage.

I acknowledge that there are difficulties and understandable concerns, but I hope that we shall be able to make faster progress than is envisaged in the Bill. I do not believe that in his response the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to the timescale of the evolutionary process envisaged by the Government. We strongly support this part of the Bill and have no wish to undermine it. We shall consider the response received from the noble Lord. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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3.45 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding moved Amendment No. 130A.

Page 19, line 14, at end insert ("and, if he is disabled, is entitled to be provided with appropriate support to ensure access to such training").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 130A and to speak to Amendments Nos. 131A and 132A. These amendments address the same point. It is the experience of the voluntary organisations who represent disabled people and work for their benefit that employers of disabled people who want to undertake part-time courses are frequently ready to find the course fees. They regard that as a very proper way of helping their employees to advance themselves. However, it is also their experience that employers are reluctant to find the appropriate support necessary to enable a disabled person to take advantage of a course that he or she proposes to take. It appears that the Disability Discrimination Act has not changed the situation to any marked extent. Therefore, perhaps this part of the Bill may provide a means to air the problem. These are probing amendments. I hope that the noble Baroness can provide me with some comfort.

I take as an example a deaf employee. He or she will require some form of sign language, which implies an interpreter or some other means of communication if he or she is to take advantage of the course. The National Deaf Children's Society, which has drawn my attention to this matter, informs me that some deaf people face barriers in gaining access to training because their employers are not prepared to help in this regard. The society quotes the case of a deaf woman who attends evening classes twice a week and is studying a foundation course in psychology without any communication support. Her employer found the course fees, for which she was very grateful, but not the necessary support. She has been struggling to follow the lectures and is considering withdrawing from the course. It is supposed to be a two-year course, and she continues to work full time. One may ask why she has not applied for a disabled student's allowance. It appears that part-time students are not eligible under that scheme.

For some years I was on the council of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. I chaired a committee of that body which received applications from blind people, principally but not exclusively guide dog owners, for help to undertake training. The primary objective was and is to supply guide dogs. (I say "was" because I am no longer on the council, having been superannuated as a result of reaching a certain age.) In some cases we were able to help with grants so that blind people could take advantage of the educational opportunities available. Often what is required is new technology, whereby with the use of amazing machines with voice recognition patterns blind people can hear the spoken word when documents are inserted into those machines. The machines do not sound like Daleks but like real people. That is a remarkable technology but it has a certain cost. People require help if they are to take advantage of it.

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Do the Government have any intention of extending the disabled student's allowance to cover part-time students on higher education courses? If so, these bodies seek clarification from the Government as to who will pay the cost of communication support for deaf and blind people or those who are otherwise disabled and find difficulty in gaining access to courses and are doing non-higher education courses. If disabled employees cannot claim the allowance for non-higher education courses, who will be responsible for paying the high cost of communication support? Often there is disagreement between employees and employers and the course provider about payment. My attention was drawn to a case in which an employer paid the course fee of £150 but the communication support cost £900 to enable the employee to undertake the course. That appeared to be an astonishing figure, but the employer felt that it was unreasonable to ask him to pay it.

There is a real problem here. If, as the Government have made clear, there is to be an extension of the right to time off to enable people to pursue educational training courses leading to higher qualifications, the provision for disabled people must include everything that allows them to take advantage of that opportunity. It is certainly not the case at present. I should like to know from the Government whether they envisage that that will be the case in future. I beg to move.

Lord Walton of Detchant: I support the spirit underlying these amendments. Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether she is aware of the fact that some years ago the Department of Health established a series of communication aid centres throughout the country in different areas with the objective of producing and supplying communication aids to those in just the kind of situation referred to by the noble Lord? One wonders whether those aid centres are still in existence and whether they can help in the situations to which he has referred.

Baroness Blackstone: I am sympathetic to all the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. It is important that all young employees take advantage of the education and training opportunities that are available to get the skills and qualifications that they need. This is doubly important for young employees with disabilities.

In considering Amendment No. 130A the Committee may wish to be made aware of the considerable range of existing provisions that can help young disabled employees to participate fully in education and training. In particular, some Members of the Committee may already know that the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 places a statutory duty on the Further Education Funding Council to have regard to the needs of students with disabilities when determining what provision to make. One of the key ways in which the FEFC has satisfied this duty is through its funding methodology. Colleges may claim additional funding units from the Further Education Funding Council for the direct costs associated with the support needs of individual students with disabilities.

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More generally, access to work is available for anyone in paid employment, including 16 and 17 year-olds, to assist them to train for, or to retain, employment. Access to work helps towards the extra costs of practical support that disabled people need to overcome work-related obstacles caused by disability. It is available to people who are disabled within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, who are in or about to enter paid employment, and who incur additional costs because of their disability. If training is undertaken as part of a young person's employment, then support provided under the access to work arrangements would cover that activity.

In addition the Disability Discrimination Act provides that employers are under a duty to make reasonable adjustment if their premises or employment arrangements place the disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared with non-disabled people. Members of the Committee will be aware that these provisions do not relate to an employer who has fewer than 20 employees, but they will also know that we are currently consulting on, and reviewing the question of, lowering this threshold.

The second amendment, Amendment No. 131A, calls for the provision of funding for appropriate support to ensure access to such training while the young person is for the time being not working for the employer but under contract to another person, "the principal." But it is not wholly clear whether it is intended that this should be an obligation on the principal, for whom the young person may be currently working, or on the employer, or on the state. The Committee may also recall that costs of this nature were not included in the regulatory appraisal assessment of overall costs either as costs to employers or as costs to government. So they would be new costs.

Turning to the third amendment, Amendment No. 132A, I can fully understand the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, to ensure that all young disabled employees are able to take full advantage of the education and training opportunities that are available to them. The amendment would provide for enforcement through industrial tribunals and, until the earlier issues have been carefully considered, it cannot be clear whether a new individual employment right is being considered and, if so, whether the Employment Rights Act 1996 would be the appropriate place to locate such a right. If the entitlements proposed earlier by the noble Lord took a different form, then a different enforcement procedure altogether might be required.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, also asked about the extension of disabled student allowances to cover part-time students in higher education. That is not relevant to this part of the Bill, which is about 16 and 17 year-olds who are not in higher education. I can say to the noble Lord that we are looking at the position of part-time disabled students. No decisions have been made because further work needs to be done in order to assess the numbers who might be involved and the costs that would arise. I hope it is helpful to know that the matter is very much on the agenda and that it is being looked at.

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We are committed to ensuring that all young disabled people can play their full part in the labour market and therefore in society more generally. I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising these important issues. However, the amendments need further careful consideration in the light of existing provision. We wish to ensure that young people with disabilities are able to take full advantage of what is to be made available. In particular we will look at ways of ensuring access to training and will say more on this important matter when the Bill reaches another place. I hope, in the light of that, that the noble Lord is able to withdraw the amendment.

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