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("( ) "Directing authority" means--
(a) the Secretary of State in relation to a direction given by him; and
(b) the National Assembly in relation to a direction given by it.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 21, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 22 [Enforcement procedure: Scotland]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 154:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 155 and 156 not moved.]

Clause 22, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 23 agreed to.

Clause 24 [Interpretation]:

[Amendment No. 157 not moved.]

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 158:

    Page 23, line 45, at end insert--

("( ) "Accessibility strategy" and "accessibility plan" have the meaning given in section 28D.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 24, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 25 [Discrimination against disabled students and prospective students]:

[Amendments Nos. 159 and 160 not moved.]

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 161:

    Page 25, line 6, leave out ("1(5)(b)(iii)") and insert ("1(5)(b)(ii)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 162 not moved.]

Clause 25, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 26 [Meaning of "discrimination"]:

[Amendments Nos. 163 to 166 not moved.]

Clause 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 [Disabled students not to be substantially disadvantaged]:

[Amendment No. 167 not moved.]

Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 167A:

    Page 26, line 43, at end insert (", and

( ) in relation to any qualifying requirements or examinations needed for or facilitating engagement in a particular profession, whether set by the institution itself or by an external qualifying body, and which are adopted by the institution, disabled students are not placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with students who are not disabled").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment seeks to impose on further and higher educational institutions a duty to ensure that, as far as possible, when students sit professional or other examinations, disabled students are not put at a disadvantage vis-a-vis other

6 Feb 2001 : Column 255

students. It links up with Amendment No. 191 which addresses more directly the issue of behaviour of professional bodies towards disabled students.

There should be a presumption of ability and equal opportunity rather than a presumption of exclusion. The purpose of the two amendments is to bring this section of the Bill and the DDA in line with the sex and race discrimination legislation by giving disabled people protection against discrimination by professional and qualifying bodies, and to comply with the recommendations of the Disability Rights Task Force on qualifying bodies. We feel strongly that at the moment professional bodies lie completely outside discrimination law and that this is unacceptable.

Amendment No. 167A deals specifically with examinations and entrance requirements for a profession. The qualifying bodies often have a direct educational role because they can restrict the activities of educational bodies. They may conduct examinations or other assessments as a prelude to admission to the profession; they accredit courses undertaken by bodies, including universities and further education colleges; and they may undertake courses themselves.

They often place conditions on taking examinations at institutions--they may, for instance, stipulate what kind of exams should be taken--and sometimes they control or at least influence entry to courses either by setting the criteria for admission to the vocation or by offering sponsorship to particular individuals. Where there are a limited number of places, this effectively prevents disabled people from joining a course.

One example I can quote is that of Ali who had dyslexia and applied to do a course with a view to joining a profession allied to medicine. The university was happy to offer him a place but thought it wise to check first with the professional body. The professional body advised the university that it would be unlikely to register Ali, even though at that stage it knew only the briefest facts about his dyslexia. As a result, the university felt obliged to reject Ali's application.

Amendment No. 191 deals more generally with the professional bodies. They can directly affect the usefulness of education received by deciding whether or not to admit a student to the relevant professional association. The piece of paper they offer may be much more useful than the degree itself. The amendment seeks to prevent the professional bodies operating blanket exclusions on disabled students without considering the real issues. There should be a presumption of ability and equal opportunity rather than a presumption of exclusion.

An example of a professional body is the Law Society which regulates entry to professional legal training such as the legal practice course available at some universities. Such organisations need to start taking responsibility for facilitating opportunities for disabled people. Without Amendment No. 191 the professional bodies may remain untouched by the new

6 Feb 2001 : Column 256

law and continue to bar disabled students from many of the professions which they are well suited to join. I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: I support the amendment strongly but briefly. It is surely quite wrong that professional bodies should remain outwith the law, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, says, untouched by the DDA. Many professions are well suited to people with disabilities who may be debarred or stopped before they can start on a course.

6.15 pm

Baroness Blackstone: I understand the wish to make sure that the requirements set by professional bodies are caught by disability duties, but the Bill is not the right vehicle. We are already committed to action in a much wider way in relation to public sector bodies as I will explain.

Amendment No. 167A seeks to place duties on institutions not to discriminate against disabled students in qualifying requirements or examinations for entry into a particular profession, whether set by the institution or a qualifying body. The Bill already places universities under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to their examination arrangements where they place disabled students at a substantial disadvantage, so to that extent the amendment is not necessary. But the qualifying requirements for a profession are set by the professional body, not the educational institution. The most effective way to catch these is to deal with those bodies.

Although there is no specific provision in the DDA dealing with qualifying bodies, they will be covered by Part III of the DDA where they are providing a service to the public. Whether they are doing so will be determined on a case-by-case basis. I must admit that this is a very grey area of law.

Where qualifying bodies are covered by discrimination legislation, they are covered by employment provisions--as in the Sex Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act--rather than the education provisions. This Bill deals with the education provisions of the DDA. It is significant that the Disability Rights Task Force included a recommendation on qualifying bodies within its employment, rather than its education, chapter. That is an important issue and its implications need further consideration and, in due course, consultation.

Amendment No. 191 seeks to require professional bodies to promote equality between disabled and non-disabled people. The Government agreed, in the equality statement of November 1999, that public bodies must take a lead in promoting equal opportunities, and we committed ourselves to putting that obligation into legislation as soon as parliamentary time allowed. We have already done that in relation to racial equality through the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. That places a duty on public bodies, when carrying out their duties, to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between people of different racial groups. We shall take similar action on disability and sex equality too.

6 Feb 2001 : Column 257

The DRTF recommended that public bodies should be under a duty to promote equality of opportunities for disabled people. Given our commitment to legislate, we shall be responding to that recommendation when we make our formal and public response to the DRTF report at the end of this month.

We have already asked the DRC to consider, with the other equality commissions, the scope for including voluntary guidance or mechanisms in advance of legislation. That will help guide public bodies in the lead up to such obligations becoming law.

In the light of these explanations, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: The Minister said that it is an employment question, not an educational question, but in the case of Ali, which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, quoted, the professional body had a great influence and he was prevented from pursuing his chosen course. Surely that was an educational question, in Ali's eyes anyway.

Baroness Blackstone: This Bill is not the right place to amend provisions that are made by professional bodies of this sort. The right place to do that is in future legislation that relates to employment, since professional bodies are about preparing people for particular occupations and particular careers. Educational institutions will, under the legislation--through proper examination procedures, for example--already have to make sure that they do not discriminate against disabled students.

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