Clause 34 - Removal of certain duties of funding bodies

Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:15 pm on 3rd April 2001.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

We have already had exchanges on this matter, and as the proposals have been productive, it is unnecessary to escalate our proceedings into a bickering match about the duties in the 1995 Act and their effect on higher and further educational institutions.

The Minister wished to take the matter further, as did the disability rights taskforce. I do not object to that: I am glad that we are able to take the matter forward. However, given that the clause concerns local authorities' policies and statements on disability and that we do not wish to overload those bodies with unnecessary bureaucracy, does she feel that their attempts to have bodies consider their policies may be lost in the wash? Will that be secured in other ways? Have we not thrown out a small baby—or drowned it—with a lot of bath water?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment) (Employment and Equal Opportunities)

I do not wish to spoil the Committee's proceedings by entering into political bantering when a general election is so distant, but I recognise that the hon. Gentleman believes that the original clauses had some impact. My experience, especially in the further and higher education sectors, was that that impact was limited. I was shocked by some of the cases brought to my attention of people who experienced outrageous discrimination in access to courses, especially in FE and HE. HE has probably been the most difficult sector with which to deal in its acceptance of both moral pressure or pressure from existing legislation to ensure civil rights for disabled people in education.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

Does the Minister concede that disabled employees in higher education—lecturers—have expressed genuine concern about whether their treatment has been appropriate?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment) (Employment and Equal Opportunities)

I certainly accept that, and it shows what I often point out: with the law, we can provide a floor of basic rights, but we need to engage in the final task of challenging attitudes and preconceptions to ensure that people act according to the spirit as well as the letter of the law and do not act discriminatorily.

We are removing the provisions not out of political spite but because they have become redundant and we no longer require them. It would be unnecessary, and burdensome on the authorities, to retain them. The duties in part IV are anticipatory, and institutions will have to keep their policies and practices under review. Under the new part IV, deeds, not just words, will test whether institutions comply with the new duties.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 35 to 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill.