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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I have already said that spiritual care is important for those residents who desire it. I also accept that, as in the National Health Service, residents in care homes and nursing homes should be provided with spiritual care when they so desire. As regards the loss of care places, presently there remains a surplus of places over demand.

Lord Patel of Blackburn: My Lords, when we have a commitment as regards the provision of spiritual care, does my noble friend the Minister agree that it must also cover all other faiths?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Yes, my Lords. I agree with my noble friend. The National Care Standards Commission will ensure that the needs and preferences of specific minority ethnic communities, and of social and cultural or religious groups, will be catered for, understood and met.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, given the Minister's replies, can he say what efforts the Government will be

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making to ensure that care staff are trained to recognise and meet the spiritual needs of people in residential homes?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, much needs to be done in relation to the workforce in the care sector. Discussions are taking place between the relevant organisations, including representatives of home owners, local authorities and the Department of Health, to ensure that we do provide an infrastructure that enables the appropriate training to be given. I should also point out to the noble Baroness that, because spiritual care will be one measure by which individual homes will be judged by the National Care Standards Commission, the dialogue that will ensue from that process will also encourage the training of staff to recognise and provide the needs to which she referred.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, perhaps I may invite the Minister to pay tribute to the hundreds, if not thousands, of such homes run by nuns and Roman Catholics. Is he aware that the standard of care is of quite rare and wonderful quality, as regards both loving care and spiritual care? Is the Minister also aware of a home called the Little Sisters of the Poor at Harborne in Edgbaston in my old constituency, which he knew well? Therefore, will the noble Lord pay tribute to the wonderful spiritual care that these people provide?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am very happy to do so. I should also point out that there are other faiths in the city of Birmingham that provide such care. I have in mind, for example, the Jewish care homes run by Andrew Cohen House, which provide extremely excellent services. The whole purpose of the National Care Standards Commission is to try to ensure that the excellence that we find in many homes is spread throughout the sector. We also owe a debt to chaplains in our NHS hospitals, who carry out a magnificent job. We are very glad to support that effort.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what lessons he draws from the recent report from the Sainsbury's Centre for Mental Health entitled, Forward in Faith, which put forward a number of very interesting ideas--in particular, the suggestion that there should be an initial spiritual care assessment at the beginning for mental health service users?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we shall of course consider those recommendations, as we would consider any recommendations coming from the Sainsbury's Centre for Mental Health. I certainly believe that a balance has to be struck here: on the one hand, one needs to ensure that residents are given every opportunity to receive spiritual support when they require it; but, on the other hand, one wishes to ensure that it is an option for which people volunteer,

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rather than having this forced upon them. As long as we can maintain that balance, we should be most interested in considering the matter further.

University Access: Financial Barriers

11.33 a.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester : My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as chairman of the appeal of Worcester College, Oxford.

The Question was as follows:

    To ask Her Majesty's Government what discussions they have had with the University of Oxford about removing financial barriers which might deter bright students from applying for a place.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, removing barriers to study for the brightest students is an important priority for the Government. Our £190 million "Excellence Challenge" programme is designed to address the under-representation of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education. Within this, we have set aside £36 million over the next three years to award 25,000 opportunity bursaries. I welcome the steps that Oxford University has taken to widen access, including the recent launch of its new bursar scheme.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply. I welcome the support that she gives to the new bursary scheme that the university will be introducing in October next year. Is my noble friend aware that the proportion of students from maintained schools who won places at Oxford this years has now risen to 55 per cent, compared to 48 per cent 10 years ago? Is she also aware that the standards of academic attainment that these students are achieving is higher than it has ever been? Further, will my noble friend support the university's efforts to reach out to schools all over the country in the state sector, encouraging pupils to apply, and will she endorse the vice-chancellor's statement that there has never been a better time to apply to Oxford?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the statement of the vice-chancellor, Colin Lucas, was welcomed by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I should pay tribute to what Oxford is seeking to achieve. In so doing, I recognise the work that it has carried out with summer schools this year which was funded by both the HEFC and the Sutton Trust, as well as the links that have been made with local education authorities and schools, including six east London boroughs and numerous other links made through the "Excellence Challenge" programme. There are also visits to schools and those from schools. The university has been working with other teachers, especially during the Sutton Trust teachers' in-service

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week, and there is also student mentoring and tutoring at state schools. I believe that all those efforts contribute to the increasing numbers of students entering Oxford from state schools.

Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that financial barriers are not confined to the personal circumstances of the applicant? Is she further aware that university teachers--I declare an interest as one--frequently have to attempt to assess the ability of people who know nothing of the subject that they are supposed to have studied, except what the teacher has told them? Does the noble Baroness understand that this is as difficult as assessing the political ability of someone who has read nothing on the subject save a Millbank briefing? Does she further agree that putting this right is the responsibility of government, not of universities?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: Oh for a Millbank briefing, my Lords! As always, the noble Earl makes an incredibly important point. By making that slight joke, I would not wish to disparage what he says. I know that my honourable friend Margaret Hodge, who has responsibility for this area, is looking into the matter. Perhaps I may pass on the noble Earl's comments to her with the request that she contacts him directly.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I join with the Minister in commending Oxford on the excellent work that it has carried out in this respect. However, would the noble Baroness like also to commend Cambridge on its bursary scheme, which was actually introduced in 1988 and which will next year provide for students in hardship to receive up to £1,000 provided that they qualify for fee remission from their LEAs? Further, does the Minister share my dismay that universities are now having to spend so much of their money providing for student hardship created by the removal of the maintenance grant by this Government, and by the introduction of university fees?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I commend Cambridge, and other universities, which are accomplishing great work in terms of developing their admission policies and bringing in young people. As the noble Baroness will know, we have a target of 50 per cent as regards getting young people through higher education by the time they reach the age of 30. That is a target that we should all acclaim.

As to student hardship, the noble Baroness will appreciate that we are looking constantly at the balance between the needs of students, families and taxpayers. There is no evidence to suggest that the number of students applying from different backgrounds is falling. However, that does not mean that we are complacent because we are also looking to increase the number of students who apply. We are always looking at the arrangements that we have in place, but we have tried to balance these arrangements.

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As the noble Baroness will know, tuition fees are not paid by 50 per cent of students. There are access and hardship funds to the value of £93 million available at present, which is four times the amount available in 1997. For mature students and student parents, we have specific grants, bursaries and new childcare grants, the total of which can amount to as much as £17,425.

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