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Lord Skelmersdale: Before the noble Earl responds, I want to ask the Minister a question. She is right in saying that the duty will appear in the amended Act. Such duties are often followed up by codes of practice issued by the Disability Rights Commission. Is it her understanding that the codes of practice will give suitable weight to the needs of staff working with looked-after children with mental health issues and other disabilities? Have the Government begun to look at the wider application of the public-sector duty to children, including looked-after children? If the Minister can confirm that they have, I am sure that that would help the noble Earl.
I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, who raised a couple of points to which I failed to respond. She asked me about the more general safeguards for carers over and above the particular case of looked-after children. She will know that we have a Commission for Social Care Inspection and care standards legislation. She will also know that the General Social Care Council registers and is responsible for the training of social workers. However, if the noble Baroness would like more specific detail, I shall be happy to obtain it from my colleagues in the Departments of Health or Education, whichever is more appropriate according to the age group.
The Earl of Listowel: I thank the Minister for her helpful reply. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for their helpful contributions. Indeed, I thank Members of the Committee for their patience on this amendment and I beg leave to withdraw it.
"( ) Regulations under subsection (1) shall ensure that a body responsible for a school
(a) publishes a disability equality scheme that sets out how the body will fulfil its duties to eliminate unlawful discrimination against, and harassment of, disabled people, and promote equality of opportunity and positive attitudes and civic participation in relation to disabled pupils, disabled employees and disabled parents or guardians;
(b) must demonstrate that they have taken the actions they have committed themselves to, and achieved the appropriate outcomes;
(c) must report on their progress;
(d) must review the scheme, within no more than three years, and make appropriate revisions to it where necessary.
( ) The body responsible for a school is determined in accordance with Schedule 4A to the Act."
The noble Lord said: The amendments are tabled to ensure that schools are placed under specific disability equality duties and that that is specified in regulations. In particular, they should publish a disability equality scheme. Amendment No. 27 tries to limit the additional bureaucracy that is placed on the scheme.
Our discussion on Amendments Nos. 15, 17 and 19 covered much of the background to the belief that schools should be brought within the scope of the Bill and given additional duties to act within it. School is the first place where civil society takes an active part in the upbringing of children and if we get things right there we will enhance the opportunities for disabled people and get them together with non-disabled people.
There has been much legislation on this subject. Indeed, I see many Members around the Committee who have been involved in Bills brought forward to improve the lot of disabled school children. Some of the ground-breaking work, especially under the previous government, occurred primarily as a result of the school-based approach. But still it is a little hit and miss, although I am sure that it will improve over time. An additional provision purely on the grounds of education, therefore, would not be inappropriate because we are taking things further than addressing only the needs of disabled pupils.
The amendment has also been tabled because certain groups are worried that schools are not covered by the Bill. Will the Ministers show us where schools are guaranteed to be in the main thrust of the changes? Apparently, universities and colleges areand the Government's programme states that if you want to participate in civil society, having employment is a good way forward. The Government have been encouraging that for a long time. If we can ensure that disabled school children will obtain the full benefit of the Bill and are at the forefront of its provisions, I shall be happy. It is not something that the Government have encouraged for a long time. If a group of people who will be even more dependent on getting good
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qualificationsit is barely possible in today's societycan be assured that they will get full benefit from the Bill, and that there is no question of their being removed from it, I will be happy. If not, there is a potential flaw.
I hope that the Government will be able to give me a full answer on that and allay my fears. If those groups outside are right, we effectively are making the Bill less good than it should be. I beg to move.
Lord Carter: I read the amendment with interest. The lawyers will have seen the letter from the Special Educational Consortium that sets out the problem. When the Minister replies, it would be helpful if she could confirm that the Government have the power already in new Section 49D, which was mentioned by the noble Lord. It states:
"The Secretary of State may by regulations impose on a public authority . . . such duties as the Secretary of State considers appropriate for the purpose of ensuring the better performance by that authority of its duty under section 49A(1)".
Then, in new Section 49E we have compliance notices and, in new Section 49F, the enforcement of compliance notices. All the powers are there. New Section 49D(5) states that anyone who makes regulations shall consult the Disability Rights Commission. The powers are there; the question is of when and how the Government use them. That is probably the point. Do we need to spell them out in detail as the noble Lord has done, or are they implicit? They cover all public authorities, not only education authorities. It will be interesting to see how the Minister can help us with the use of the regulation-making power.
Lord Skelmersdale: Further to that, chapter 1 of part 4 of the Keeling schedule refers to schools. In considering the amendment, I found the Keeling schedule extremely useful, because it puts the whole matter together and in context. I notice that, under proposed new Section 28D on accessibility strategies and plansthis is not in the Bill; I am talking about the Keeling scheduleeach local education authority must prepare, in relation to schools for which they are the responsible body, an accessibility strategy. Clearly that is not the issue here, but schools must also prepare further such strategies at such times as may be prescribed. That is very much covered by the issue here. In other words, specifically for schools, the DRC and the Government can insist that such strategies are produced, kept up to date, followed through and all the rest of it. I am not really sure that the amendment is necessary.
So far as the details of the amendment are concerned, I want to ask the noble Lord, Lord Addington, to whom reports of progress must be made, as covered in proposed
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new paragraph (c) in the amendment. Clearly, schools are reviewing themselves, but to whom must they demonstrate that they have taken the steps and actions that they said that they would?
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: I also was concerned to support the amendment. I accept that there are powers around that can be used to achieve the objectives that I take it are behind the amendment. However, saying that they are around is not the same as being clear on how and whether they will be used. The purpose of the amendment, as I understand it, is particularly to probe that question.
I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in that the inclusion of schools in a very specific and direct way is crucial to the furthering of the objectives of the Bill. I was not quite as persuaded as evidently some others were by the Minister's comments on the previous amendment about the fact that one cannot make analogies between what happens to disabled people and to people in minority ethnic groups. However, it is certain and analogous in both cases that the promotion of good and positive attitudes is a crucial part of the role of schools.
I am very well aware that the argument is used that schools have so many duties put on them, have to report on so many things, and are subject to so many requirements to produce more paper that one should not include things that are extra without being very clear that they are necessary. However, in the instance of knowing what happens to children with disabilities if positive attitudes are not specifically required to be encouraged, if we are not to have the amendment, we need some very direct and positive assurances from the Minister if we are to feel confident that this key instrument in promoting the objectives of the Bill will be used.
I speak knowing that the Children's Society, among other bodies, thoroughly welcomes the Bill and feels that it is excellent that is being brought forward. It would regard any failure on the subject as a matter of serious concern.
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