HL Deb 20 January 1983 vol 437 cc1525-7

3.7 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they will make a statement on The Legal Basis of Further Education, as Lord Elton said in answer to a Starred Question on 21st October 1982 that they hoped "to be able to make a Statement shortly". (Col. 228.)

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I cannot give a date for this statement, but it should be possible soon.

Baroness David

My Lords, I can only express extreme dissatisfaction with that Answer. In October I was told by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that there would be an early statement. Three months later I am told that it will be soon. It is not a satisfactory situation. May I say that a great many people——

Several noble Lords


Baroness David

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he realises how many people who work in the adult education field—and, indeed, in the field of further education, the 16-to 19-year-old field, and the field of special education—are very worried that the Government are taking this so lightly that they have made no statement within 15 months on all the comments coming in on this document The Legal Basis of Further Education?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am not altogether surprised that the noble Baroness was somewhat disappointed with my original Answer. However, I would deny that the Government are taking it lightly. It is just the opposite. They are very conscious of how complex this matter is, and the review that was sent in attracted a great many comments from many interested bodies. There is a lot of very careful consideration being given to this, and that is the cause of the delay. Indeed, my right honourable friend recognises the considerable interest in this matter. I cannot commit him to a precise date, but it really should not be very much longer.

Baroness David

My Lords, may I ask the Minister why it is possible to make absolutely snap decisions about the education of 14-to 18-year-olds—that can be done almost overnight—when this matter has been neglected for so long?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, as I said, this is a very complex matter. It certainly has not been neglected, and the Minister is deciding when he will make his statement.

Lord Renton

My Lords, may I remind my noble friend that during the proceedings on the Education Bill 1981, in which so much was done to help the mentally handicapped, anxiety was expressed about the further education of the mentally handicapped? Will he give an undertaking, if he is able to do so, that when we have the Government's statement the needs of the mentally handicapped will not be overlooked?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I will certainly give my noble friend that undertaking. In fact, some work has been done on this already. The largest group of handicapped students are those with moderate learning difficulties. There is a need for curriculum development, supplemented by staff training for teachers who work with these students. The department and the further education unit have taken steps to respond to this need. The further education unit is publishing guidance on a curriculum framework directed at meeting the educational needs of students with moderate learning difficulties. The department is to finance a project which is to be commissioned by the further education unit to assist the wider dissemination of good practice among teachers of the handicapped in further education and the production of teaching materials. These steps should help to improve the provision.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, may I revert to the Answer which was given by the noble Earl to my noble friend in the first instance and repeat a question which is often asked by the Opposition of the Government: How soon is "soon"?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, "soon" is as soon as I said it was to the noble Lord's friend.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, if I may follow up that point, can the Minister tell us whether "soon" is sooner than "shortly" and "shortly" earlier than "early"?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I do not wish to commit the Government to a definite statement on whether "soon" is sooner than "shortly" or "shortly" is sooner than "soon", but I think that "soon" is probably as shortly and as soon as possible.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, would the noble Earl agree that it is particularly essential for facilities for further education to be integrated for the physically handicapped, along with their able-bodied peers, at a time when they are beginning to enter into the adult, able-bodied world?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I indeed agree with noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), on that point. The review recognised that existing legislation makes no specific reference to the needs of handicapped students. The White Paper Special Needs in Education noted that this would be one of the matters to be considered as part of the wider review of the legal basis for further education.

Baroness Davis

My Lords, may I finally ask the Minister to take into the account the fact that some handicapped people—this question has been raised by two noble Lords—develop rather more slowly than their peers? They have to make up for time spent in hospital and so on. Can the Minister therefore please ask the department, as they are apparently still considering the matter, to consider that post-19 young people may need special attention and an extended period during which they can claim perhaps free fees, and so on, because they develop more slowly than their able-bodied and not handicapped peers?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I shall certainly bring that point to the attention of my right honourable friend and also to the attention of the department.