Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Cox): My Lords, if Amendment No. 74 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 75 because of pre-emption.


The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I too put my name to Amendment No. 74. I have been wondering for several hours whether I would be speaking to this amendment before or after midnight. The bells have just told me that it is after. As usual I shall be speaking in the Scottish context.

In response to a similar amendment in Grand Committee, the Minister emphasised the fact that this clause of the Bill was strategic in purpose. By that definition I believe the noble Baroness sought to explain that each education authority would lay in facilities appropriate for various disabilities somewhere in their schools' estate. I can see her point and it is a good argument in the limited context of a city or large borough. However, the argument runs into sand when we consider the school estate of some rural and remote area local authorities, and of course in the four island groups.

Clearly, the disabled pupil in, say, Kinlochbervie, cannot travel on a daily basis to appropriate facilities in Inverness--a journey of at least 100 miles--though it is well within the Highland council area. The requirement to board away from home is undesirable for most families. Without Amendment No. 74, rural and remote areas will not benefit from this extension of the DDA into schools. The argument about lack of resources will be supreme.

I hope the Minister will be able to explain how the Bill will deliver itself meaningfully in the rural and remote areas of Scotland and elsewhere.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I have an amendment coupled with Amendment No. 74 which refers to the defence,

However, after listening to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, and the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, I believe that what is required is some very real flexibility.

The example given by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, was of a very isolated area. But sometimes in a not-so isolated area a placement in an appropriate school might be 15, 20, 30 or 40 miles away rather than

20 Feb 2001 : Column 742

across the sea and possibly even incurring an aeroplane journey, and would still present all sorts of difficulties. Taken in the round, which is why my amendment may need rethinking, it might be more economic and more effective for the provision of that child to make the modification, whatever the expenditure for that child in that remote situation, rather than to pay the cost of relocating the child, dislocating the child from his or her family and sending them to much more expensive provision.

If one moves from there to the urban situation or even, as in many parts of the country, to the suburban situation, it is possible that not every single educational building has a loop system and the facilities to meet the provision of autistic children or the needs of partially sighted or partially hearing children. It would not be physically possible for every school and college in the land to meet all disabilities of all people. There is an issue to resolve, and the Bill requires amendment. It will be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say about the problem. As it stands, the Bill does not meet the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, or even myself.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, we all want to ensure that disabled children are not disadvantaged in their access to education. However, I hope that noble Lords will not want to duplicate effort and create additional duties when there are already arrangements for providing auxiliary aids and services to meet children's special educational needs. We have already proposed a way in which schools will become more accessible to disabled children.

We have addressed the recommendations of the DRTF on these issues. I pointed out in Committee that the special educational provision, made under the SEN framework, includes the auxiliary aids and services needed to meet a child's special educational needs. The DRTF recognised this and, after considerable discussion, recommended that there should not be an additional duty to provide auxiliary aids and services under the disability duties.

The reasons that lay behind that recommendation were sound. It recognised that this duty would overlap with the SEN route and might lead to arguments about who was responsible for making the provision. Effort would go into resolving this dispute rather than providing for the needs of the child. In addition, the DRTF noted that not all aids and services are provided through the education service, so it would be unfair to expect the education provider to provide such items.

If noble Lords have concerns about how the SEN framework operates, we should focus on improving the framework. We are doing exactly that by implementing the SEN programme of action through this Bill and by revising the SEN code of practice. It is in no one's interest, especially not that of the disabled child, to duplicate provision or to make less clear how a child can get an aid or service.

I reassure noble Lords that we have undertaken to carry out a review of the SEN action programme in due course, to ensure that the needs of children with

20 Feb 2001 : Column 743

SEN and disabilities are being met in practice, including their access to auxiliary aids and services. On the point about making schools more accessible, again we listened to the DRTF. It recommended that the most effective way to make the greatest number of schools accessible to disabled pupils in the shortest time would be to place a strategic planning duty on LEAs and schools, and we have done this. The alternative, which is to make all schools consider making reasonable adjustments to remove or alter physical features, as implied in the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Ashley, would slow down the rate at which schools are being made accessible.

The resources that are likely to be available to an individual school may not as readily stretch to building works. If we approach this strategically, and encourage LEAs and schools to work together in their planning, we can be more confident that the substantial resources available can be used to best effect to benefit disabled pupils and prospective pupils.

I think that it is significant that the Special Educational Consortium has accepted the recommendations of the DRTF and has expressed no unhappiness with this part of the Bill. We should be reassured by that. Rural schools, except in Scotland, will be subject to the planning duty and can be made accessible. I am sure that LEAs will plan to do that. They have substantial new resources to help them--220 million in England over the next three years. Of course, it is entirely up to the Scottish Executive to bring forward legislation for a planning duty, if it feels fit to do so.

In the light of my answer, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I appreciate the tenor of my noble friend's remarks. She is obviously trying to be helpful but, I am afraid, she is not being quite helpful enough. The fact that the Special Educational Consortium may not agree with me does not worry me because it is not infallible. Although I agree broadly with the consortium, which has been very helpful on the Bill, like all of us, it can make mistakes. Therefore, if it does not support this amendment, it has made a mistake, as I believe my noble friend has in failing to accept it.

However, I welcome warmly the review that she mentioned. It is a step forward; it is a sign of good faith; and in the hope that I can persuade her even more before Third Reading, I thank her very much and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 75:

    Page 11, line 9, leave out ("That") and insert ("Subsection (1)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, it is perfectly clear what is meant by "That" in subsection 28C(2) in Clause 12. It does of course refer to the duty on schools to take such steps as are reasonable to ensure that

20 Feb 2001 : Column 744

disabled pupils or prospective pupils are not placed at a substantial disadvantage. I fail to see how it could possibly be interpreted in any other way.

We have already had a certain amount of debate during the passage of the Bill about the use of legislative language to reflect every-day language. This is an example of parliamentary counsel drafting in a more modern way. I should have thought that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, might accept that and, therefore, I hope that he is able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I shall not waste the time of the House with a Division at this hour. I sincerely hope that it is not an example of more modern drafting. It is inexact; it does not say what it means. Yes, it can be interpreted by the noble Baroness and I am delighted that she has done that so that someone in extremis can refer to Hansard. But why does not the Bill refer to subsection (1), as every other piece of legislation that I have ever read has, in a proper and exact fashion? If this is modern drafting, why is it not repeated in other places in the Bill? Why not dispense with all references to other subsections within a clause and just refer to "that", "this", "what has gone before" or "as I was saying last week" in the middle of it?

The reason for being exact is so that it is absolutely clear what is being said. All proper legislation that I have read before would have referred to subsection (1) at this point. It is sheer laziness on the part of the Government that they have not asked the parliamentary draftsman whether he would be happy with this change. I am disappointed by that attitude, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page