This is a pleasing opportunity for me to welcome you to the Chair for the first time, Sir David, and I am sure that the Minister will also do so. Unless things go awry this afternoon, you will find that we have good-natured debates. We have been able to explore important issues that deserve our attention, even though they do not always generate extreme political heat. We have been lucky to have had Mr. O'Brien in the Chair, and with you, Sir David, as someone interested in education, we are carrying on as we started.
We are moving on to a new chapter as we discuss further and higher education. However, it is not entirely new territory. Methods of dealing with disability discrimination in this slightly different context should be broadly equivalent to those applicable in schools. We should not relax our attention as we progress through the Bill, because this is an important area. I have specialised in it, and take a continuing interest in it, as the Minister knows.
There are two reasons for paying special attention to the topic. First, the Government are closely connected with the funding of further and higher education. I appreciate that Ministers do not fund such education directly. Even this week, the Learning and Skills Council has taken over from the Further Education Funding Council, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England and its Welsh and Scottish counterparts are hardly touched by the Bill. However, since the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, the Government, through those funding bodies, have been the basis of funding. They have, therefore, a more hands-on connection with the funding of further and higher education than with the funding of schools, which is delivered and moderated through the deliberations of local authorities and local education authorities.
Secondly, we must remember that post-16 students are volunteers. That cuts both ways. If they are not properly treated, they will not stay in education. A major concern is that, if there is not a good regime for disabled studentsto provide access, support and general encouragementthey will be dissuaded and deterred from going into further and higher education. They will not then pick up the skills for which they have the ability, and they will not have many of the employment opportunities that should be open to them.
We should approach debates on the issue in a spirit that recognises its importance. We could have concocted various probing amendments, but it is better to orchestrate discussions, as we did this morning, around clause stand part debates, with a limited reference to the amendment paper.
Clause 26 inserts into the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 new section 28R. There is an essay to be written about the different philosophies of the British and the French in constructing acronyms such as NATO and OTAN. I shall not bore the Committee with that, but it is a matter of moving from the particular to the general or the general to the particular. I shall follow the British modelthe Opposition Whip is relieved about thatby raising a couple of particular points before moving on to a more general point.
We have discussed schools and I am not seeking to reverse my opinions in relation to further and higher education, but my first point is this. The explanatory notes and the Bill make it pretty clear that private providers will be caught by the clause. The Under-Secretary nods. Will she provide some elucidation about private providers of tuition? Subsection (6) refers to
``the higher education sector . . . the further education sector'' or educational institutions
``designated in an order made by the Secretary of State.''
If, for example, a member of the Committee gives part-time Latin lessons, or a more musical Member gives piano lessons
My hon. Friend has been hiding his light under a bushel. Given the exigencies of the parliamentary timetable, some of us may be driven to those activities in due coursewho knows? That is a jocular point, but a serious one too.
The mainstream provision in publicly funded further and higher education is easily recognisable. It is slightly less easily identifiable, but can nevertheless be conceptualised, in private further and higher education. The same duties extend, although they may not work in quite the same way. The question of tuition then arises. I am tempted to say that it is a minor issue, but it may not be. If, for example, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings were to start offering Latin lessons, perhaps to members of the Committee, and were to discriminate on grounds for which there was no good justification in human rights terms, such as gender, ethnic origin, disability
The Under-Secretary took the words out of my mouth. However, as far as I know it is not yet a crime to be a Conservative, although some Labour Members may wish otherwise. It would not help the Committee's deliberations if we were to get into a discussion of whether people's political allegiances should be protected under the Human Rights Act 1998.
To sum up my first substantive point, someone who legitimately offers tutoring as a business may wish to discriminate. My understanding of the provisions is that they would be caught under part III of the 1995 Act. The Under-Secretary nods, but it would be helpful to have a full response. Are the duties any weaker, or are they just as binding, albeit that they are expressed in a different way?
My second point sits across both further and higher education. Here I return to some extent to the publicly funded sectoralthough they are autonomous institutionsto look at the position of student unions. From time to time, we discuss the provision of education. This is a new chapter in an expanded part IV dealing with education and related services. Student unions are not in fact part of the same foundation in either further or higher education. Many long and tortuous discussions about their regulation took place in respect of legislation that I myself took through this place. With the help of a number of then Government and Opposition Members, we eventually got the balance about right.
Not for one moment do I want to signal any interest or wish on the part of student unions to adopt overtly discriminatory policies. The only area in which there may be some difficultieswhich I should perhaps flag up and then pass hastily onis freedom of speech clauses. I wonder whether those who are regarded as particularly militant in political or ethnic terms might be excluded from deliberations. Such a matter is on the margins of this provision, but I am particularly concerned about where the Act will bite. It would be useful if the Minister could elucidate whether part III or part IV duties will apply in that regard, and whether there will be a material difference. To balance things up a bit, I shall, for a change, invoke Deng Xiaoping, who said that it does not really matter what colour the cat is as long as it catches mice. In other words, I do not mind which part of the Bill will apply, so long as the effect is the same.
Finally, I want to say a word or two about the real world issue of resources. The helpful explanatory notes, which make it clear that the total amount available to post-16 providers will be £172 million in the financial years 2002-03 and 2003-04, state:
``Before commencement of the new provisions'' a matter for a later debate
``providers will be strongly encouraged to make voluntary adjustments to improve physical access.''
They then make the following point, on which the Minister needs to comment:
``Funding for access projects in England will be made available on a 50 per cent. match funded basis in the further education sector.''
My immediate reaction is to ask from where the other 50 per cent. will come. How, and how easily, will such finance be provided?
When the further education sector was incorporated in the early 1990s, a kind of Domesday survey, known as the Hunter survey, was undertaken. Money was allocated for capital works in further education, all of which had to be spent on essential health and safety work in the first year or two, so bad was the inherited physical stock at that time. I am not saying that that is still the case, but there are certain inevitable knock-on effects. Even if Ministers were to sweeten the pill by saying that additional expenditure post-16 will decrease recurrent costsI am not sure that that is easily demonstrablethe fact remains that there will be up-front costs, not all of which will be met by the Government. Ministers need to respond to that point.
Turning to higher education institutions, I have received representations about the Bill from Universities UK, which says:
``The compliance costs for the higher education sector need to be carefully assessed. The Government has stated that £56 million will be provided to improve access for disabled students to higher education institutions'' in the same financial years that I have mentioned. Universities UK continues:
``Although that is very welcome, work undertaken with a small number of pilot institutions suggests that the costs might be as large as £250 million.''
That is a big hit on the universities sector. Universities UK says:
``We urge the Standing Committee to look very carefully at the figures to ensure that the success of the Bill is not compromised by pressure on resources.''
That is from an organisation which is no more hostile than I am to the intentions of the Bill. However, it is aware from the Bett report of the substantial potential liabilities in relation to pay in the higher education sector that could occur as a consequence of equal opportunities. It is concerned that those aspirations will not be met because resources will not be available.
Those are serious matters, and there are several specific issues. First, there is the interaction of the clause with part III duties for any institutions, organisations or activities that are, by their nature, educational, but are not necessarily covered by part IV duties. Secondly, how will student union activities be covered? Thirdly, although we do not object to the principle of the clause, throughout the six years since the exclusion of education from the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, there have been concerns, which still remain, about whether the resources are available to do the job. We look forward to the Minister's reassurances on that issue.
I am grateful for your indulgence, Sir David, as I joined the Committee one minute late. That prevented me from hearing my hon. Friend's opening remarks, but I am sure that I am none the worse for that. I do not want to stretch your indulgence to its famously broad limits, but if I had been here I might have heard a quote from an even more obscure source than Deng Xiaoping.
The clause brings us to the issue of further and higher education. My contribution is, once again, in the form of a series of questions. We are rightly addressing the issue of access, which is clearly of fundamental importance if we are to avoid discrimination. It is an even more complex issue than in schools because of the nature of the experience that people enjoy in further and higher education. There is a need to access more buildings because the nature of the educational process demands more movement on the part of students. Those issues can be addressed with the right sensitivity and the right will, both of which are increasingly apparent.
However, I am concerned by issues that are implicit in any view of discrimination in further and higher education. My questions revolve around four or five particular matters. What judgment has been made about the need to adjust arrangements for work placements, which can form an implicit part of students' courses? What judgment has been made about the need to address the issue of transport, which, given the nature of further and higher education, seems to be vital? As I said, students may have to move between many sites or be required to carry out fieldwork. What view are the Government taking on that subject? How will materials that are implicit to students' courses be provided in alternative formats?
My hon. Friend's reference to moving around sites interested me. It would be helpful if the Minister would consider a situation in which work is being done outside formal education provision, for example, on a building site. Which duties, if any, would cover that?
I alluded to that problem when I discussed work placements, because there are many vocational courses in further education. Whether facilities will be constructed to allow disabled students to benefit in the same way as non-disabled students is worthy of further comment.
The provision of information materials in appropriate formats for people with a range of disabilities has cost and legal implications under the Bill. I am interested in hearing from the Minister about the judgment that has been made on that and on the more straightforward matters of communication support and special equipment. If those facilities are not provided, that could be considered cause for a legitimate claim of discrimination. It would be discriminatory to put a student in a position in which they could not fulfil their potential, and were not able to take advantage of a college place or make best use of it. I am sure that Ministers have considered such issues, but they are highly pertinent to this part of the Bill. One would not want cases to be brought unduly, but if we are to make the intentions of this part of the Bill a reality to people in further and higher education, we need to explore those fundamentally important matters. Lord Rix raised some of those issues when the Bill was debated in the other place. I have not dealt with them as fully as he did, but I hope that the Minister will have had a chance to consider his comments and has arrived at the Committee with reasoned responses.
Along the same lines as my hon. Friends, I would like to ask the Minister a question. She, like me, is a skilled linguist. As a former student of Serbo-Croat and Russian, I have a great interest in language teaching at university. As Ministers will appreciate, an integral part of language teaching is often that students spend a yearor three months away in another country? What provisions will a university, or other institution, have to make to ensure that the correct facilities are available to a disabled people in such a situation. That may not be a problem in western European countries. However, I do not remember from my time at Belgrade university that disabled facilities were high on the list of prioritiesperhaps they would be even lower today. My college sent students to Minsk, Moscow, Bucharest and Budapest. How far do universities and colleges have a liability in that respect? The matter may be dealt with by clause 28, and I apologise if that is the case. However, I wanted to raise the issue because if a year abroad were denied to a language student, it could be argued that they were being disadvantaged.
I welcome you, Sir David, to your position presiding over the Committee. The hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) was right when he said that, on the whole, the proceedings have been carried out amicably, so I hope that you will not be called on to be firm with us. I think that potentially this could be your last opportunity to chair a Committee.
I hope that it will be an enjoyable experience that will leave you with happy memories.
As the hon. Member for Daventry pointed out, we are now discussing the clause relating to post-16-year-olds. It is an important part of the Bill that extends the need not to discriminate against students in further and higher education institutions to the arena of lifelong learning. We have covered all the issues concerning schools, but the purpose of the Bill is to increase the civil rights of students with disabilities, and that could not be achieved without widening the scope to cover all post-16 activities, including further and higher education institutions, adult education and youth services.
The clause introduces a new section into the DDA making it unlawful for further and higher education institutions to discriminate against disabled students in the arrangements for admission, exclusion or suspension of students, and in the services that they provide to students. The hon. Member for Daventry referred to the scope of part III of the DDA and of the Bill. The important point is that the Bill makes the position much more comprehensive. The hon. Gentleman was right in saying that the problem is that some of the activities experienced by post-16 students are exempt from any legislation to prevent discrimination. The important point about the Bill is that we can be confident that the activities of post-16 students will be covered by part III of the DDA or the Bill. I shall respond later to some of the detailed questions about those provisions.
Subsection (11) defines student services, and it worth reminding the Committee of the breadth of that definition in response to some of the concerns expressed. Student services are
``services of any description which are provided wholly or mainly for students.''
They include the provision of education and services related to teaching and learning as well as wider services such as accommodation, careers and welfare services, and leisure facilities that institutions offer mainly to students. The Secretary of State has a power under subsection (12) to clarify by regulation what is a student service and what is not.
The clause also identifies the institutions covered by those duties which are defined in subsection (6) and, for Scotland, subsection (7). The relevant institutions in England and Wales are those in the publicly funded higher education and further education sectors as defined by the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. Relevant publicly funded institutions in Scotland are defined by reference to the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992 and the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.
The hon. Gentleman referred to private institutions and began to answer his own question. They will generally be covered by part III of the DDA rather than the new duties introduced by the clause.
I assure the Minister that I am not trying to trip her up on a quibble, but when institutions, albeit private in the sense that they are not within the normal remit of the higher education sector, are in receipt of some public funds--for example, the Learning and Skills Council--it may be not be clear which student is receiving what and whether a contribution is made to overheads and so on. Will it be possible to work out which duties bind, or will an understanding have to be reached in borderline cases?
It is the institution that is important and I was coming to the point that subsections (6)(c) and (7)(e) give the Secretary of State power to designate by order institutions that receive some public funds in England and Wales and, after consulting Scottish Ministers, in Scotland. Those subsections cover some institutions that might not fall clearly into the previous definitions that I outlined but which would be wholly or partly funded by public money. Considering the legislation's intentions, such institutions should be covered. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.
I come now to some of the specific points about services. Many hon. Members will be sorry that they never had the opportunity to learn Latin from the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes). However, were he to have provided his services to the public, I can reassure him that he would have been caught, as a private provider of tuition, by part III of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The point is that he would have been offering a service to the public.
First, even if someone were to offer something to the public and not charge, as I am sure that my hon. Friend, out of the kindness of his heart, would do, there would be a potential duty. Members of Parliament do not normally charge the people who come to our surgeries, and we would still be bound. Unless I missed it, the second point that the Minister owes the Committee is to say whether, in practice, the part III duties are more, less or equally onerous than those under part IV. Do they have the same effect?
I am sure that people would be willing to pay good money to be taught Latin by the hon.Member for South Holland and the Deepings, but the point is that, even if they were not charged, the services that he would be offering would be covered by part III. On the point about comparing part III with part IV, the duties are different. The trigger for the part IV duty in the Bill is that students must not be subjected to substantial disadvantages; the trigger in part III is that the member of the public must not find it impossibly or unreasonably difficult to access the service. To that extent, the new provisions in part IV are stronger.
The hon. Member for Daventry mentioned student unions. If the unions provide a service, they will be caught by part III; if they hire employees, they will be caught by part II of the 1995 Act. It is worth while pointing out that the Bill's definition of student services is broad. For example, it would cover leisure and social facilities primarily for students provided by an institution, such as student restaurants, common rooms, clubs and associations, and sports facilities.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of funding for post-16 requirements. I am sure that all Committee members were heartened to hear that, once again, the Government were investing in their responsibilities in post-16 access. Additional Government funding of £172 million has been made available over two years. That is, of course, supplementary to the big increases in overall budgets for post-16 learning, which are already distributed in ways that are sensitive to disabled learners' needs. The hon. Gentleman asked whether that was capital or recurrent funding; to break it down, £151 million is for capital fundingequipment and adjustments to physical features. We recognise that those are potentially costly, and the money will make a significant difference to the ability of institutions to make those changes. We also expect institutions to contribute to the cost of change from their wider resources, hence the match funding approach to which the hon. Gentleman referred. It is not unusual or unexpected, despite having been raised on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis). The matched contribution that the Learning and Skills Council will require from the other resources available to further education colleges will be 50 per cent., an argument for which is that it will lever out substantial additional funds for delivering the objectives. However, it is less than the normal matched contribution expected for FE capital funds, which is 75 per cent. In that respect, this is not a new principle; it is entirely consistent with the way in which the FEFC has allocatedand the LSC will allocateother capital funds to FE colleges.
From the £172 million, £21 million will be for recurrent funding, particularly for training staff and for proper support for changing practices and procedures, which, although not very costly, may incur a small administrative cost. Most recurrent costs of meeting the additional needs of students with disabilities are already met through the FEFC'snow the LSC'sfunding methodology. As I said earlier, the distribution of those funds is sensitive to the needs of disabled learners, and is done through the disabled students allowance in higher education, which contributes towards the provision of auxiliary aid, for example. Broken down for each sector, the £172 million means £66 million for further education, £56 million for higher education, £35 million for adult and community learning and £15 million for the youth service.
We have discussed resources on several occasions, and I hope that members of the Committee recognise the Government's significant investment in ensuring that resources are available successfully to carry out the legislative proposals.
The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings raised the issue of work experience, which the Bill covers, although indirectly. If a student on work experience is in paid employment he is covered by part II of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 as an employee. Whether or not a student on work experience is in paid employment, the institution providing the course is likely to be providing services in respect of work placement that are caught by the Bill: for example, by helping the student to organise the placement, or because it has set the rules that a placement must be part of a course.
The Minister saw my burgeoning distress, so I hope that she will clarify something for me. What would happen if an institution, in good faith, had negotiated an arrangement with a sub-contractor to provide the work experience and there was an act of dereliction by the employees of that sub-contractor, or there was disability, racial or gender discrimination at a level that was not under the direct control of the institution? Does that wash back on to the institution itself, which is then guilty of an offence?
The duties on an institution to arrange the work experience, including evaluating whether the placement is suitable for the student
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
I was reassuring the Committee about the provisions relating to work experience. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) also raised the issue of placements for language courses. Those would be covered by arrangements similar to those that I was outlining for work experience. As I was saying, the services that an institution carries out in arranging a work experience placement will be caught by the very wide definition of services under the Bill. Education providers must fulfil their statutory duties in carrying out those services.
Yes, it would part of the responsibility of an institution, as I was suggesting in relation to work experience placements, to carry out reasonable checks on the appropriateness of placements, whether they were for work experience or overseas. As it offers services to the public, the British Council would be covered by part III of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
On the issue of reasonableness, the institution might also have to consider helping to find a reasonable alternative placement. In the case of work experience, it might be reasonable, and it would certainly be good practice, for the institution to take steps to raise the employer's awareness about meeting the needs of a disabled student. However, over time, employers will become more used to their responsibilities under part II of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and that will impact on the quality of work experience placements for disabled students.
I do not want to put words into the Minister's mouth, but listening to this discussion, which has been helpful, I would construe her remarks to mean that educational institutions based in the United Kingdom have a duty of care to make reasonable inquiries as to the likely situation in the receiving institution. That receiving institution might be abroad in the case of a language placement, or in the UK in the case of a work placement. UK institutions will be obliged to check the lie of the land, and that cannot necessarily be done by a purely formal check or undertakingthey might need to undertake physical investigations.
I also construe the Minister's remarks to mean that an institution's duties would be enhanced in cases where it knew that its student had a disability that might need some special attention. It would then need to ask specific questions of the receiving institution, such as whether the student would have to cope with flights of stairs, or whether he or she would be able to gain access to particular buildings. I am not necessarily asking the Minister to make a definitive judgment, but is that the sort of area that the obligations will cover?
The hon. Gentleman is helpful, because an institution would, for any student, have to carry out research into the appropriateness of a placement overseas. It would be within the scope of reasonableness for that research to include establishing whether the placement was appropriate or could easily be adapted for a student with disabilities. However, as I was saying, if it proved impossible to impose on, for example, a foreign university, standards to which the UK institution had to conform under this legislation, it would be incumbent on the UK institution to offer an alternative placement. It would be reasonable for the institution to make such an alternative arrangement.
Presumably, the Minister would not consider an assurance in writing from a foreign institution to be acceptable. Would it then be necessary for the specific British institution to examine something physically? I am not thinking of places in western Europe, but in other countries, such as Moscow, Minsk, Belgrade and Zagreb. Some of those would not be suitable alternative placements. Where do the Government stand?
It would be difficult to say that, as a blanket provision, a representative of an institution would have to visit a university physically. It is important that reasonable steps be shown to have been taken. Individual cases would vary depending on what the institution knew about the extent to which a foreign placement could deal with students with disabilities, based on experience. On a case-by-case basis, we want institutions to act reasonably, and to provide alternative placements if necessary.
The Minister is being very reasonable and helpful, I want to add two points for consideration.
First, although I could not possibly suggest that the Minister commit colleagues from another Department to any specific course of action, it might be helpful to make use of the post in the country, and perhaps the British Council, which I have always found excellent on such matters abroad, to check situations out. That is intended as a constructive comment.
Secondly, I hope that the Minister will bear in mind, in any guidance that she gives to institutions on the subject, the sensitivities of students with learning difficulties. They may be in physical danger as well, which is not strictly an educational problem, in some overseas countries. She must also bear in mind the sensitivities of students with mental health problems, which might be recurrent rather than continuous. It is important to have back-up cover for such students if they become depressed in a foreign environment.
The hon. Gentleman makes sensible suggestions that highlight my point, which is that we need a common-sense approach on how institutions deal with such problems. I shall move on to how we might support them, but first I shall respond to his earlier question about whether institutions will be held responsible for everything that happens to disabled students during their work experience or placements. If an institution takes the steps that I have outlined, it will not be responsible. As I emphasised, it will have a duty not to discriminate against disabled students in the work experience services that it provides.
Given the serious issues raised on work experience, it is worth saying that, in another place, we made a firm commitment to make a regulation to define what institutions do in respect of work experience as a student service. Officials in my Department are working on a statement of the practical steps that we think the duty should involve. We will work together to ensure that that shared understanding is reflected in the Disability Rights Commission's code, which will also inform what institutions do.
In the meantime, we will work with the Association of Colleges and the Learning and Skills Council to develop good practice guidance for further education institutions on work experience placements for disabled students. It will be published in the late spring, which will be in time to influence action on the arrangement of placements for students that start in the autumn. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education has produced a code of practice that covers students with disabilities. It contains a paragraph on academic and vocational placements, including those linked to language courses. Once the Bill has been enacted and the accompanying codes are in place, the QAA will undoubtedly want to revise its own guidance. Until then, we will keep it in touch with our emerging thinking, which I am sure will be inspired by our debate today.
I shall move on to a point that concerns the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepingsand others, I suspectabout transport. The provision of transport is exempted from the provisions of the DDA, but I think that I can help the hon. Members on some other specific issues.
A further education college in my constituency is on two sites about 10 miles apart, and a bus takes students from one site to the other. That service, which is provided for students by the institution, will be covered under the definition of student services. The Bill will also place a duty on education providers to make reasonable adjustments to policies, practices and procedures or any arrangements for services that place the disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared with non-disabled people.
In operating their transport policies, institutions will have to be sure that they do not treat disabled students less favourably than non-disabled students. They will also have to consider making reasonable adjustments. For example, a college with a policy to provide all students eligible for access funds with the same financial support for transport, regardless of whether they have a disability, will need to consider the impact of that policy on disabled students with transport needs which, as hon. Members have pointed out, are more significant than those of eligible non-disabled students, especially if the only accessible form of transport is a taxi. In that case, it will probably be appropriate to adjust the policy to ensure that the extra costs for disabled students are taken into consideration.
With those reassurances and points of information, and given the cross-party recognition that clause 26 is the start of an important section of the Bill that broadens the scope for students and people engaged in post-16 learning, I hope that the Committee will agree to the clause standing part.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.