HC Deb 31 October 1995 vol 265 cc150-2

.—(1) In section 161(5) of the Education Act 1993 (information relating to pupils with special educational needs to be included in annual report), omit the words from "and in this subsection" to the end.

(2) After section 161(5) of that Act insert— (6) The annual report for each county, voluntary or grant-maintained school shall include a report containing information as to—

  1. (a) the arrangements for the admission of disabled pupils;
  2. (b) the steps taken to prevent disabled pupils from being treated less favourably than other pupils; and
  3. (c) the facilities provided to assist access to the school by disabled pupils.
(7) In this section—

(3) In section 1 of the Education Act 1994 (establishment of the Teacher Training Agency) add, at the end— (4) In exercising their functions, the Teacher Training Agency shall have regard to the requirements of persons who are disabled persons for the purposes of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995."")

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.—[Mr. Paice.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 48, 49 and 134.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Once again, I am delighted to welcome a climbdown by the Government. Earlier, the Minister talked about what he thought was an ambiguity about lurching to the right. I must remind him that their Lordships, including hereditary peers whose abolition my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) supports, could not for a moment fathom the right-wing approach being commended to them. It was they who brought some reality to this aspect of the Bill.

Throughout the passage of the Bill we have tabled amendments to bring education within its purview. Ministers consistently told us that such amendments were impossible and unnecessary. Once again, the Government refused to budge—until they did. So I welcome the amendments, I accept the Government's climbdown and I look forward to further revisions of the Bill that will finally ensure genuine equality of opportunity for disabled children and adults in education.

I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to clarify exactly who and what are included in the continuing general exemption of educational establishments. In particular, we want to know whether all early-years facilities regulated by the Children Act 1989—I led for the Opposition on it—are covered by the Bill.

An amendment was moved by the Opposition in the Lords on this very matter. The Minister who replied complained that raising the issue of day care for the under-fives on Report was making his life "extremely difficult". No doubt it was; sometimes that is the job of an Opposition. The reason why it was necessary was the Government's announcement in July this year that they intended to introduce a pre-school voucher scheme. It is the Government's intention that it should come into force at the same time as the Bill. It appears that the result will be that any place accepting vouchers under the scheme will be treated in law as an educational establishment.

6.45 pm

It is this that has caused our concern, and we are entitled to express it. Many of the places that currently provide day care for four-year-olds and that will be eligible under the proposed voucher scheme also provide places for three-year-olds. Many of them are not schools or educational establishments, but they do employ teachers. My question is therefore relevant. When considering the Bill, we need to know whether it will apply to pre-school day care facilities. Although the question is a simple one, many people outside the House will be interested to hear the Minister's response.

If a day care centre accommodates both three and four-year-olds—those using vouchers and others who do not—will the establishment be entirely exempt under the Bill, or will it be exempt only with regard to the four-year-olds who will be funded by vouchers? It should be easy enough to answer that, with all the departmental resources available to Ministers.

Finally, we believe that the voucher scheme is an ill thought out and hasty proposal. We shall want to ensure that it does not lead to the exclusion of day care centres for young children from the terms of the Bill, and that the definition of exempted educational establishments remains consistent with the provisions of current children's legislation.

Mr. Paice

I might point out that the hon. Gentleman is on his hobby-horse again. I suggest that he read what was said on Report in the House. He will find that my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), then the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, gave the undertaking on education which is now covered by the amendments from the other place that I am proposing to accept—

Mr. Clarke

The Minister knows that I always try to be fair. Of course I recall what the right hon. Gentleman said, but I also remember his White Paper of July, which contained no reference to education. I further recall, on Second Reading, that he rejected the very arguments that the Minister is now pursuing.

Mr. Paice

The world moves on. I should have paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam), who was behind many of the changes on education. It is therefore false to suggest that we have just seen the light: we made our position clearly known to the House some six months ago.

Hon. Members have argued for the inclusion of education in the part of the Bill dealing with access to goods and services. The amendments propose an alternative way of dealing with the matter, requiring reports and information to be published. I shall not go into all the details, because the amendments are self-explanatory.

The hon. Gentleman specifically asked me about the general exemption with regard to pre-school age children. The voucher scheme is widely welcomed by parents throughout the country as an opportunity for them to get their under-fives into a form of education. We are consulting at the present time about the voucher scheme, and legislation will be brought before the House to enable it to happen. When it comes before the House, these issues will have to be addressed in it. I am quite happy to make that statement.

It is the case at the present time that, as drafted, a day care facility would be covered as goods or services—assuming that it was open to the public—by part III of the Bill, the goods and services clauses. On educational establishments, we are looking at amendments as I have described, and if changes have to be made to resolve the issue with voucher schemes, that will be done at the time of the legislation that the Government will be laying before the House in due course.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 48 and 49 agreed to.

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