HL Deb 11 May 1994 vol 554 cc1565-95

3.4 p.m.

Lord Addington rose to call attention to problems in the workplace encountered by adult dyslexics; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this debate is about the problems of adult dyslexics in the workplace. I felt that it was important to seek a debate on this subject and on this aspect of the disability—and dyslexia is a disability—for the simple reason that when we normally discuss dyslexia we are discussing school children and those who are still in the education system and who thus have a much better chance of receiving some help.

I start by thanking all noble Lords who have put down their names to speak in the debate, and particularly all those noble Lords who would not normally be expected to speak in such a debate because, as I have said, we normally discuss dyslexia in the context of education. It is therefore refreshing to be addressing a different Minister on the Government Front Bench, as opposed to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. That is because we are now dealing with the problem from a different angle.

The subject of dyslexia leads me to remember a joke that was made by the father of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. He said that whenever he made a speech in your Lordships's House he was in danger of making it on the subject of dyslexia. On that occasion, I too spoke on dyslexia. Since then, the area of study has moved on. We have made great gains in the educational provision for dyslexics. Children who are going through the education system today stand a far better chance of having their problem identified and of receiving appropriate help than was the case 10 years ago. The improvements are even greater when compared with 20 years ago when many people had never even heard of the problem of dyslexia. Indeed, many people did not think that it existed because we always relate problems to our own experience. That led people to think, "If I can read, somebody else should be able to read also". However, that is not the case.

Dyslexia is caused by a different construction of the brain. It is a neurological problem. There have been many descriptions of it, including that the two hemispheres of the brain are more evenly balanced and that the neurological connections within the brain are different in dyslexics. What is absolutely sure, however, is that dyslexia is caused by a different construction of the brain. There is no question of someone overcoming dyslexia or of recovering from it. There is no way in which that can happen. You can learn to deal with it and you can have strategies to help you to handle the problem, but you cannot get better. Dyslexia is there for life. On those grounds, it qualifies as a disability.

There are a great many myths attached to dyslexia. Many people have said to me that they have read articles saying that we now know how to deal with dyslexia. That is not the case—and for one very simple reason. Dyslexia is not only an inherent condition; it is also as diverse as, say, bad eyesight. If I said that somebody had bad eyesight, you might say, "Can they see at all or do they have to squint vaguely when identifying a car number plate at 30 yards? Are they short-sighted or long-sighted? Is the problem more severe in one eye or the other?"

That diversity is at least matched in dyslexia. There are dozens of different manifestations of the problem and dozens of different levels of severity. Therefore, when people say, "Isn't it the case that: if you look through certain coloured lenses, the problem can be dealt with?", the answer is invariably, "Yes, for some people". People also ask, "Isn't it the case that the problem can be dealt with by certain lessons?", to which the answer is again, "Yes, for certain people". There is not just one identifiable problem, but a range of problems. They have a similar cause, but dyslexia manifests itself in many different ways.

We also have to deal with a series of misconceptions about what people with dyslexia can do. I have often been asked, "Are not all dyslexics very intelligent?" If only that were the case. Some dyslexics are very intelligent, and that is often easily spotted. If they have a severe problem which manifests itself in reading and writing because they are under-achieving compared to their potential ability, they are spotted easily. It is also said that dyslexics are very creative. Some of them do tend to have strong creative abilities. They have a good feeling for space in the design field and good reasoning, but not all of them have a level of ability which will make a considerable difference to their employment opportunities or any academic study before employment. They may have a huge range of skills.

The main thrust of what I shall say will be about those whose disability is sufficient to impair attainment but who have insufficient compensating factors to make up for that. Many brilliant people in the design field have some form of dyslexia, but if they are brilliant and talented, people make exceptions for them. Someone who has merely some ability will not have that ability recognised if they have great difficulty in reading or writing.

The first way to recognise adults with this problem is when they are confronted with forms. Every time one has to fill up a form one has to be able to read and write accurately. Even if only a yes or no answer is required, a great deal of pressure is placed upon the person to read through the form correctly and to answer it correctly so as to make the meaning clear. People in every aspect of life have to fill out forms almost on a daily basis. As the workplace becomes associated more with the office as opposed to the factory production line, it becomes more common that people have to read and write accurately. That means there is no room for mistakes. One has to ensure that one knows what one is dealing with. Someone who has difficulty in processing written symbols and expressing themselves in written symbols is at a huge disadvantage.

I know that other noble Lords will be commenting upon the advances that have been made in information technology, but for the foreseeable future we shall require reading and Writing skills. Someone who does not have those skills has tremendous difficulties fitting into the workplace. A waiter is an example of a person who needs those skills but who is not normally associated with them. A waiter in a restaurant has to be able to record accurately what someone is ordering. He then has to be able to convey that information to the person who has to prepare the food, and then ensure that he has kept an accurate note of who requires what and then serve that person. It is almost inconceivable that that can be done without writing down the order. If someone makes a mistake in one of those processes then that person will be unable to fulfil that task.

If one wants to be able to record telephone numbers accurately one must be able to phase numbers. As a rule, dyslexics are very bad at putting numbers into sequence. One can imagine the problems caused to someone in an office who has to answer the telephone, take down numbers accurately, and associate them with someone else. That means writing down a name and recording a number accurately. The problem is accentuated if one has to take several names and numbers within a few minutes. The problems become incredibly diverse; for example, has one got the right name and the right number?

I can put my hand on my heart and say that I lost a girlfriend because I lost the one diary in which I had her telephone number. I could not remember it despite the fact that we had been going out together for four months. That excuse was not easily believed at the other end of the telephone line. If such pressures are put on dyslexics they will start to break down.

Dyslexics will also often have had bad experiences at school. That means they tend to be bad about taking on training and new ideas. They tend to be resistant to new ideas and being told what to do. That must be added to the problems caused by the more menial forms of employment which are available. What jobs do not entail a certain amount of reading and writing? From that one can see that dyslexics have fewer opportunities for initial employment and also for progressing in any employment.

If we combine all those factors it is not surprising to discover that a high proportion of the prison population in many countries—the evidence suggests this country as well —has problems with dyslexia. The prison population is affected by many other things such as social conditions and whether the people have been brought up in an area where crime is effectively the only realistic or viable option. That is not an excuse, but it is something that we should bear in mind when considering why we have such a large prison population. Prisoners are economic failures. They take the line of least resistance, and find themselves in confrontation with the law. The problem starts to snowball.

If we are to deal with the problem we must ultimately have some type of vetting for adults, not just for school children. Dyslexic children do not achieve at school and are resistant to achievement. They put up barriers and avoid school either by leaving early or by not attending when they should. That might explain why dyslexia is often thought to be a middle class disease. Middle class parents have higher expectations and traditions of educational achievement. They keep their children at school and therefore the problem can be identified. In the working class environment less emphasis is placed on academic achievement. There are, of course, exceptions to that, but it is easy to see why we have the myth that all dyslexics come from Surrey and all live in at least semi-detached houses. If one projects that to the workplace where there are greater demands for skills and training one can once again see why dyslexics are at an incredible disadvantage. Everything revolves around the fact that we are still dependent upon the interpretation of the written and printed symbol.

The Government could help many of those people by introducing an effective screening process in job centres, young offender units and other places which deal with people who are seeking work and have a literacy problem. It is worth noting that only a certain percentage of people with literacy problems are dyslexic. They amount to 10 per cent. of the population at most. If we can identify those people we can start to do things with them. First, we can tell them that they have a problem and that their under-achievement is not their fault. It is not a case of, "You should have worked harder when you were at school". Adults in particular need help because, it will increase their self-esteem. Adults no longer have the support of parents. They will no longer have the support mechanism of parents and teachers to assist them. They must be told why they have a problem and that they can take action to assist them to overcome it and to deal with it on a day-to-day basis.

The Learning Methods Project report, published last year, was an adult dyslexia screening feasibility study. The report concluded that it was possible to install a screening process at various levels of interaction with the general public. Ultimately, it would be cost effective because fewer people would be lost to the job market. If such a system can be introduced we shall be stopping a certain amount of wastage and a potential drag on the rest of the economic community.

I conclude by saying that unless we gear up support systems for adults within the workplace we shall place those who suffer from this problem in a situation where they will never be able properly to achieve. Furthermore, they will not understand why. The under-achievement is bad enough but unless they understand why they will never be able to relate to that under-achievement. They will never have an idea of self worth and will suffer from all the associated problems.

Will the Government draw up a working definition of the levels of dyslexia so that those who suffer severely can be classified as disabled? There is no universally accepted definition of the various levels. It is odd to think that we have accepted the problem in our schools system but not in the workplace. I beg to move for Papers.

3.22 p.m.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for bringing forward this subject for debate today. It is one of considerable importance. The noble Lord has a deep understanding of the problem and has introduced the debate with great eloquence. He illustrated the advantage of having a touch of dyslexia about one; for 17 minutes he spoke with great eloquence and without a single note in his hand. That is a great advantage in your Lordships' House or anywhere else, and it is not copied by many people.

The problem that we are debating is serious. I have been fairly close to dyslexia since the days when it was not understood at all. They were the days of Alf Morris's disablement Bill, when the late Lady Phillips defined the subject in the Bill as a "chronic disease". That is not what it is; it is a disability. With care, the individual can learn to live with it and to succeed as well as anyone.

Some disabilities are simple to deal with and are recognisable. If one has lost an arm or a leg, for instance, the factory owner or whoever can see that and try to make life easier. However, dyslexia is an invisible disability and does not attract such attention. People are not alerted to the fact that concessions should be made and life should be made easier. Seldom has the workplace responded well to the situation. The disability is a language disorder, as everyone now realises. Reading and writing, numeracy and knowing left from right can be difficult.

The disability has always existed and was discovered in America in 1860, which is long before we ever thought about it. In the old days when I started work —admittedly on a farm, which was a simple place—the working person did not have to read and write. We worked with horses and two tractors of the most simple nature and there was no problem. In fact, one or two of the older members of the workforce who were illiterate got on very well and became foremen and the like.

Today, it would be highly dangerous to have someone working on a farm who could not read or write. Everywhere there is machinery of the most complicated and expensive nature and danger is round every corner, quite apart from bills of lading for corn, the noting of cattle numbers and so on as required by the Community. Reading and writing must be done by everyone all down the line.

One must think carefully about the workplace. We are considering a wide area; it could be the office, the factory floor, transport, airlines, prison and so on. However, right down the line I can see difficulties for people who cannot read or write. I see only one ray of hope, which is important. We are moving from pen and paper to keyboard skills, which the dyslexic person is good at. Often the institute finds that such skills are a way to bring people forward and to make use of them. Today, one can buy small computers which can be operated on one's lap and dyslexic people respond to that. It provides a little hope but it does not stretch to every corner of the workplace.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned older people. I agree that youngsters are well provided for in Part III of the 1993 Act. Younger people have a better chance, although I would not say that it is very good, but I shall return to that point in a moment. The people who have left school and are still dyslexic do not have a good chance at all. I once met a lady from the North who had been through the whole school system without being able to read or write. She was obviously of good intelligence and I had to satisfy myself as to what had happened to her during all her years at school. During her spare time she had produced a large volume of good poetry. She had recited it to a friend who had written it down. I read quite a lot of it and it was pleasant and good. However, in answering my question about what she did during all her school years, she said, "I did a bit of gardening and colouring". She was given a book in which small children have to colour in outlined pictures. Obviously, she will have difficulty if she wishes to work in a factory, an office or anywhere of that kind.

The people who knew something about dyslexia—even before the Department for Education—were those in the Army. During the period of conscription they discovered the severe danger of taking people in the Army who could not read or write: they turned the wrong way towards the battle or the wrong way against it; they could not read signs saying "danger" and they could not understand what they meant. A very good unit was established, under a major, of which a number of people outside the Army, who were interested in trying to deal with that disability, took advantage.

In this day and age, it is very difficult to adapt the workplace for the dyslexic person. Therefore, we must turn back to education. A dyslexic person must be able to adapt to industry and he needs a very particular education in order to be able to do that. That course must be pursued with great vigour.

Of course, there are problems. The problem that I see is that at the moment there are just not enough teachers to deal with the situation. In the past, many of the teachers have come through the voluntary sector and are then fed back into either the grant-maintained or state system. The noble Lord mentioned a figure of 10 per cent. Therefore, the number of teachers available is a mere trickle, but one needs a flood if the situation is to be dealt with properly.

I do not know how that will be achieved. Perhaps I may give your Lordships an idea of the size of the problem. The Dyslexia Foundation, of which I am president, has a validated course at Kingston University. But taking together youngsters and teacher training, we are able to deal with only 3,000 to 4,000 people per year. I need hardly say that there are financial constraints.

I wish to ask the Minister a question. In my stupidity, I thought that this was an education debate, but perhaps my noble friend Lord Henley will pass on my question to my noble friend Lady Blatch. What role does my noble friend Lady Blatch see the voluntary agencies, of which there are a number, fulfilling in the future? Also, how much money can be made available to voluntary agencies that teach in a proper way, either under the provisions of the Bill which is going through the Commons at present and which passed through this House some time ago or under Part III of the 1993 Act? This is an opportunity to follow up the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. By returning to education, adults could make themselves useful and fulfil their potential.

Perhaps I may end on a reasonably happy note. On the whole, I believe that the situation has improved hugely. When I started as chairman of the British Dyslexia Association, as it was then, there were about eight powerful ladies for the most part who had dyslexic children. Those ladies could get absolutely nothing done for their children. More than nothing is being done now, but it would be very good if we could do a great deal more.

3.34 p.m.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, your Lordships will be indebted, as I am, to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for tabling this Motion this afternoon. I am most certainly grateful to him, as I suspect are other noble Lords, because I need to be reminded regularly that disabled people are people first of all. They have talents and rights, as do the rest of us, and that applies of course to people with dyslexia.

Secondly, unlike noble Lords who have spoken already, many of us, myself included, are fairly ignorant as to what is involved in relation to dyslexia. I vaguely think of dyslexics as people who have difficulties with reading, writing and spelling, but I had not given much thought to the employment implications of that. Thanks to the initiative taken by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I have read some papers prepared by the British Dyslexia Association and I have listened with great interest to the two previous speakers.

Two factors have struck me in particular; first, there are very large numbers of people who suffer from dyslexia. I am told that the best part of 2 million people suffer from it in various degrees. Some suffer from it very slightly; and some suffer from it in a very profound form indeed. As the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, said, a great many people suffering from it are hidden from the rest of us by the fact that the disability cannot be cured by putting on a splint or prescribing spectacles.

The second factor which struck me, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, is that dyslexia does not, as many of us had half thought, equate with thickness or laziness. It can go hand in hand with a very high degree of intelligence and achievement. I understand that Michael Heseltine is a dyslexic, as is Richard Rogers and the noble Lord, Lord Addington.

Underlying the Motion seems to be an optimistic assumption that if a problem exists and it is recognised, then something will be done about it. One has to be fairly optimistic to ask an employer, or indeed employees for that matter, to do anything at all for disabled groups. I understand that the employment prospects for some dyslexics can be transformed by properly directed training. As has been said by the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, computer programs for learning, reading and spelling can revolutionise the lives of some dyslexic people.

Dyslexic people become successful in the same way as the rest of us; namely, by developing the skills that they need and by creating for themselves, but with help, special strategies to compensate for their own areas of weakness. Many dyslexic people can learn and work very well, but sometimes they need to learn differently from other people.

When I read the papers that were provided to me over the weekend, I read in particular of one man called Peter Savage. He went right through school without knowing that he was dyslexic. Like many others, he was regarded as thick, stupid and unwilling to learn. It was only when he started his first job that it was recognised that he was dyslexic.

Peter Savage was lucky in two ways. First, his employer was not put off by the fact that he was dyslexic because his own son had dyslexia. Secondly, he was lucky because he was given support by his employer to have special lessons. He took a City & Guilds examination and achieved Class 1 distinction in lorry driving and diesel fitting. He now drives lorries all over the country. That man is not unique, but he is fairly exceptional. His problem was identified and his employer reacted with understanding.

There are three broad ways in which to persuade an employer to react positively to the needs of disabled people. First, you can appeal to his better nature. There are a few employers who take seriously equal opportunities policies. But, quite frankly, you cannot rely upon the better nature of employers to respond in that way, or not for the most part.

Secondly, you can appeal to the employer's self-interest; that is, either enlightened or unenlightened self-interest. Like many other disabled people, dyslexics bring special qualities to work, especially a willingness to try harder. I say that because the fact that they have overcome a disability often gives them that added commitment to solve problems and to get stuck in. That is worth trying, although there are limits to it.

That leads me to the third approach to employers which is that of friendly persuasion. At the end of the road, we shall probably need legislation to make a reality of equal opportunities for disabled people. What happened last Friday in the other place as regards the civil rights Bill was very sad indeed. But, at least, bad news can be good news in the sense that it might bring to the attention of a wider range of people the problems of the disabled at work and in other respects, and the need to take action. However, I do not wish to pursue that particular subject this afternoon.

Even if legislation is introduced, that cannot be the end of the story. We need to get into the heads of employers and employees the fact that disabled people have as much right to a job and as much right to a decent income as the rest of us. That is the message that we must get home. It is a message of basic rights. An instrument for so doing is already at hand in industry. From my perspective, trade unions should be much more active in putting the issues, and the needs of disabled people, including dyslexics, on the negotiating agenda. The first obstacle to be overcome is the attitude of some employees. Some employees are apathetic; some are positively hostile to disabled people, including dyslexics; and some are just afraid of disabled people.

'With the greatest respect, I would suggest to noble Lords that it should not be too difficult for the British Dyslexia Association to identify some of its members who are active trade unionists and to get them to raise the issue of the employment and support of dyslexic people in their branches or in their factory groups. It could be suggested to them that they might arrange for a speaker on dyslexia to be invited to the branch meeting so as to inform people of what is involved. A motion could be put down for the inclusion of such an issue in the next round of negotiations or on the agenda of the annual conference of the union concerned. In such a way, the message could be sent that dyslexia is as valid an item for the negotiating table as is pensions and, indeed, health and safety.

If dyslexic people are willing to help themselves, as many of them conspicuously are, then their fellow employees should be willing to back their demands for jobs and supportive training. Perhaps even governments could be persuaded to take a more positive attitude towards supporting people who have shown that they are ready to help themselves and to help one another.

3.43 p.m.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo

My Lords, I, too, welcome most sincerely the Motion tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington. The noble Lord said that there is no cure for dyslexia, but I certainly believe that there is a way around it and a way to live with it. As someone who has throughout his life been aware that he has learning problems, I find it extremely difficult to live with the words "dyslexia" or "dyslexics". I believe that both words are far too wide. Moreover, it is dangerous to use them, especially so far as concerns employment in the market place.

I believe that people see someone, identify him as dyslexic and then put up their hands and debar him from work. That is why today's debate is so important. I should like to pay tribute to the British Dyslexia Association and the many other bodies which work tirelessly on behalf of those with learning difficulties. I should also like to pay tribute to the many remedial teachers throughout the country whom I have met over the years. They seem to be coping admirably with a rising tide of people who have learning difficulties.

I believe that the problem starts at school. Some schools have very caring teachers who are readily able to assess a pupil's learning problems, while other schools adopt a different attitude and say, "Oh, he is a thicko. He can go to the back of the class; we won't worry about him". Those are the people who become a problem for future generations.

This country has taken a great step forward in dealing with learning problems by way of remedial treatment and, indeed, job counselling for the future. We prepare our young who have learning problems—and, as we have already heard, learning problems come in many different forms—to face the future and to cope with the world outside.

My military experience tells me that the Armed Forces have many soldiers, sailors and airmen who have learning problems. On the whole, they are very caring people, they cope very well and do extremely well themselves. Indeed, there are several senior officers in the Armed Forces today who have experienced learning problems in the past. However, as in the case of all people with learning problems, they need to gain confidence. They need to realise and understand their own ability.

In my own case, I have to say that I never realised that I had a learning difficulty until I went to the Regular Commissions Board at Westbury. I heard two education officers talking between themselves discussing me and saying, "Well, there is obviously something wrong with this man, but he is the son of a Field Marshal and the nephew of a Field Marshal so, therefore, he must be OK". That is the only reason that I got into the Army. I think that I would have been a dustman if I had not been the subject of such a discussion between two education officers. That alerted me to the fact that I had problems. From then on, I learnt to live with them.

I submit that it is important for adults to understand and to learn to live with their problems; and to cope with them in the outside world as best they can. The Motion refers to "problems in the workplace". Undoubtedly, those with problems attract bullying and no more so —although, I am sure, many people will not agree with me—in the Armed Forces. The Armed Forces are very sheltered communities and people living in such communities are very close to one another.

It may interest your Lordships to know that, despite the adverse publicity regarding Options for Change and further cuts in the Armed Forces, the Army this year is looking for 10,000 men and a further 1,000 apprentices; that is, nearly 12,000 men. In relation to the remarks made by the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, it is interesting to note that the testing for all those people who are coming into the Army—and not the Army or the Air Force—is based on keyboard skills by way of something called the BARB test (the British Army Recruit Battery Test). That is basically a touch screen whereby one touches the "yes" or the "no" command and the screen produces the answer. My recent research has shown that those with learning difficulties cope extremely well with that test. Some of them do not always get the jobs that they want, but when they have mastered the keyboard skills and the way that the test is operated, those with learning difficulties usually cope very well. It is a form of computer testing that is proving to be very effective.

I believe that there are far more people in the country with learning difficulties who have problems in the workplace which are not of their making. Such problems will continue but, I submit, in order to cope with them, young people need to know and understand the nature of their problems. I urge the Government, if possible, to set up in due course an assessment board to which adult people who realise that they have learning problems and who are finding it difficult to secure employment can apply and be assessed so as to find out exactly what are their problems. In that way they can obtain guidance on the way to cope in employment if they have not received such guidance from their schools. I believe that would certainly help those with learning disabilities in the future. If that were to happen and there were further remedial teaching for adults—I know this is an educational problem—it would be a great step forward in helping this country.

3.50 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, may I first apologise in that I fear I shall not be present to hear the Minister's reply at the end of the debate as I have an engagement at 4.30 p.m. that was entered into long before I knew about this debate and I am afraid I shall have to leave to attend that meeting.

Not long ago one of the publications of the Institute of Personnel Management contained an extremely interesting article in which it was pointed out that industry was losing a great deal by failing to make use of dyslexic people of considerable ability. It was interesting that the article appeared in that particular journal. It is a journal for people who are, after all, charged with the responsibility of recruiting people into industry and, indeed, are charged with the training programmes for the companies to which those people go.

The article pointed out—I am sure this is well known to all who have studied the problem but I am certain it is not known to a large number of the general public or to the people who suffer from dyslexia—that many dyslexic people, while having certain limitations, have great strengths in other directions. I read the list of the qualities that a dyslexic person often possesses. It included imagination, creativeness and lateral thinking. The list went on and on. I really began to think that industry ought to be advertising for dyslexics rather than rejecting them.

Without exaggerating this matter, the article makes a point of considerable importance. Industry's job, after all, is to make the best use of the talents which people have and if industry is failing to understand the strengths of dyslexics then the point of the article—that a great deal of waste is occurring—is surely very well founded. The noble Lord, Lord Murray, and, by implication, other speakers, spoke about industry's responsibility in this direction. I accept that it has a responsibility—the kind of responsibility that is reflected in the article. But I also make the point that it is not industry's job to make good the deficiencies of the public services which ought to be doing the work that they are not doing, consequently landing industry with problems outside its responsibility. After all, industry has enough to undertake in finding employment, creating wealth and all the other things it has to do.

When I was chairman of an area manpower board under the old MSC and we were running the early stages of the youth training service, company after company complained that they were being forced to spend a great deal of time rectifying the weaknesses of youngsters who came from school totally inadequately equipped for the kind of skill training that the companies were capable of delivering, and which it was their responsibility to deliver. It was not their responsibility to add to the educational activities which should have been undertaken in the schools. This matter is of great relevance as regards how we should be dealing with dyslexics in society and how they can release their potential, thus enabling them to contribute to the economy and, in so doing, be able to build a decent livelihood for themselves.

The point is that we accept that many dyslexics are of high intelligence and have the other qualities referred to in the article that I mentioned. Surely it is up to the schools and those organisations which offer careers advice to pupils, and later to adults, to identify the strengths of people with dyslexia and to guide them towards the training and the job applications where their abilities and their strengths can be utilised. But, as we have heard from other speakers, dyslexics lack confidence arising from not being able to cope well at school, because of their deficiency, and do not know what their strengths are. Unless they receive guidance they will not apply for the right kind of training and the right kind of jobs. This matter really starts in the schools and in the colleges.

I can give one example of this from personal experience. A woman returning to employment was taken on by a TOPS scheme. That cost the TOPS programme quite a lot of public money. The woman is semi-dyslexic. Of all the jobs she should not have been steered towards, a secretarial job surely came pretty high at the top of the list. However, she has considerable artistic skills and, indeed, organisational skills but secretarial skills rank very low. If, when that TOPS scheme was being run—this would apply to any scheme being run by the public service—she had been properly assessed, she would have been steered away from the jobs for which she was so patently not qualified and towards training in areas in which her very marked strengths could have been utilised to her own and everyone else's benefit. It is a false economy of the first order to economise on careers advice at all levels in the educational system.

I quote from a useful recent publication of the Adult Dyslexia Organisation which states: Many F.E. colleges have been very sympathetic towards support for dyslexic students. However, from April 1st 1993, further Education Colleges were given corporate status and have moved out of county council control. They now operate under a form of independently controlled financing. The Government is also looking at cutting back Disability Allowances. This means that assessments will have to be bought in: previous access to the Educational Psychology Service is no longer taken for granted and most LEA Psychology Services will charge for assessment. This may be around £45 which is considerably cheaper than a private assessment but is still a cost per head which the College may be reluctant to meet". Assuming that to be a correct statement—and I have no reason to believe that it is not—that is surely a classic example of false economy in failing to invest money to guide people into the areas in which they can be successful and, let us say, tax paying citizens.

My noble friend Lord Addington referred to the number of people in prison who are dyslexic. This is not in the least surprising. We know that people who cannot obtain employment are far more likely to commit offences than people who can obtain employment. We know that people who have been in prison are far more likely to go back into prison. We know that, at the cheapest level, it costs about £400 a week to keep someone in prison. However, compare that with the amount paid to local education psychology services to stop dyslexics becoming unemployed and therefore prevent a disproportionate percentage of them finding themselves among the prison population at a cost of £400 a week. I understand that if they enter the really high quality crime world it costs £1,000 a week to keep each person in prison. Surely the money spent on the education psychology services is money which even the Government will see is well spent.

3.59 p.m.

Lord Renwick

My Lords, this has already been a fascinating debate and I am very much looking forward to hearing the rest of it. I wonder whether, after the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and my noble friend Lord Radnor, there is anything much that I can add. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on starting this excellent debate and on many of the things he said about dyslexics. I was delighted that he brought out the point that not all dyslexics have spatial skills such as Richard Rogers or special skills such as Michael Heseltine. But then not all great politicians and all great architects are dyslexic, so we must keep these matters in perspective.

I should like to remind my noble friend Lord Radnor, who modestly said that he had something to do with dyslexia, that it was just over 19 years ago that he and I made our maiden speeches in this House, in a debate on literacy introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King. I remember it well and I am sure that my noble friend does too. I took the opportunity this morning to read what we said. We had hoped that this House would play some part in helping to improve the lot of the dyslexic in attaining those levels of literacy which were mentioned by the other speakers in that very interesting debate on 5th February, 1975. I think we are now somewhere near there.

As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, there have been gains in educational provision. I remember the Education Act 1981. I remember the lovely phrase created by Sir Rhodes Boyson in the debates on the. Bill in the other place: he said that special educational provision should be made for those with special educational needs, whatever the cause. That brought in dyslexia, for once and for all time. I reminded him of that when I met him the other day.

I have mixed feelings about my noble friend Lord Radnor because it was he, who back in 1978 was chairman of the British Dyslexia Association and President of the British Dyslexia Foundation. became chairman of the British Dyslexia Association and have been involved with it ever since. I maintain an interest in the subject, especially in the educational side. It is very timely that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, should draw our attention to the fate of the dyslexic in the workplace.

It is very interesting that my noble friend the Minister is to answer the debate on behalf of the Department of Employment. We had tremendous support from my noble friend Lady Blatch and the Minister, Mr. Eric Forth, in relation to the Education Act 1993. I shall be very interested to hear what my noble friend the Minister has to say on behalf of the Department of Employment. About 10 or 12 years ago I visited one of his predecessors at the department, who was a Member of this House. I remember that I was in a great hurry because I had to go to Southampton. In explaining his job the Minister said that his role was to get people jobs. I was at the department because in 1982 the. psychologists who were skilled at identifying the jobs which would suit individuals, especially dyslexics and those with other difficulties, were being taken from the job service. I asked the Minister whether it was, understood that probably there were more people in this country who were in unsuitable jobs than at that tune were unemployed. I thought of that point as this debate was taking place. I remember thinking how very true that was and how much more resources were needed by the Manpower Services Commission, as it was at that time, to place people in the right job rather than merely a job.

Even in those days technology was being introduced to develop a form of question and answer on a touch screen, which I was very interested to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, mention. He quite rightly said that people with dyslexia and learning disabilities are very adept at using such technology.

Also, I believe that the time is fast approaching, if it has not already arrived, when information technology will be developed to help dyslexics greatly. There is a system of learning called the integrated learning system (ILS) which is on trial in this country. It provides a half-hour training session for a child, or an adult, each day. One machine can provide training for 20 to 30 children. They are each identified by their own personal number. There is continuous assessment in the two subjects which they learn in the half hour; a quarter of an hour is given to each subject. It is astonishing how the children are fascinated by the system. It has completely eliminated truancy in many deprived areas where it is on trial, because the children have their sessions on the ILS on a daily basis. They then have individual assessment at the end of the lesson to see how they have progressed.

I believe that it is only a matter of time before the development of proper teaching programmes and software will enable teachers to cover the whole range of learning styles. I suggest that dyslexia is a learning style which has not been well covered by our standard provision of education.

I declare another interest, in that I am chairman of the Dyslexia Educational Trust, which for the past 10 years or so has been giving bursaries to teachers in both the private and public sectors to take the British Dyslexia Association diploma course in the identification, assessment and teaching of dyslexics. They are able to provide better teaching for ordinary pupils as a result of the diploma course.

In the old days before the course started, a teacher would find that in a class of 25—we are talking about 4 per cent. of the population—there would be one child (usually a boy because, astonishingly, three times as many boys as girls suffer from dyslexia) sitting at the back of the class of whom the teacher would say, "There is something wrong with little Jimmy at the back of the class. I can't get my lessons through to him. There must be something wrong with the child". Now we see more and more that teachers feel that if they cannot get their lessons across to the child at the back of the room there must be something wrong with their teaching. That is most heartening and exciting.

When I became chairman of the British Dyslexia Association, I remember thinking that there was no problem, and that what we must do was to impress the teachers of the teachers. If one gets through to the teachers of the teachers, then all the teachers coming into the education system will eventually, after 10 to 15 years, understand the problems of dyslexia. I went to my first meeting as a member of the National Council of Educational Technology earlier this week and found that that idea is still being taken on board. I hope that there will be much greater awareness in our education system of this difference of ability. I like to think of it as a difference of ability rather than a disability. It is the lack of understanding of that difference of ability that causes handicap.

With regard to employment perhaps I may refer to the lack of awareness. I read a rather nice article recently about a man who applied for a job. At the end of the application he stated that, although he was able to do the job well, he was dyslexic. Within two days, he received a letter back saying, "I am sorry. You cannot have the job. We are on the first floor and therefore we are not accessible for wheelchairs". Although I am sure that such lack of awareness does not apply everywhere, it indicates the level of the problem of dyslexia.

After the major strides taken by the Department for Education, I shall be delighted to hear that the Department of Employment will be as helpful to those adults who suffer from dyslexia.

4.10 p.m.

The Earl of Lytton

My Lords, it is my pleasure, too, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for giving us the opportunity to deal with this important matter in the context of employment. I have to apologise to noble Lords. I may not be able to stay until the end of the debate owing to other business pressures. I shall stay as long as I can, and I apologise to noble Lords who may speak later.

I can claim no detailed knowledge of dyslexia or its manifestations. However, in response to the point made by my noble friend Lord Allenby, I strongly suspect that we all suffer from defects in our powers of learning and comprehension. I have to use notes in order to deliver a speech to your Lordships. Perversely, many of the afflictions which medical science can now identify with a considerable degree of accuracy are those which, by not being obvious, are hardest for society generally to come to terms with. It is hard to accept and assimilate sufferers into society because the afflictions are not infirmities or disabilities as we commonly understand them. We are all familiar with the orange logo with the wheelchair symbol which labels—perhaps sometimes unfortunately—those who are physically disabled. It has taken years to achieve a proper approach to access to buildings and to toilet facilities, and to integrate the needs of such sufferers into everyday thinking and into the design of the working/leisure environment.

However, it is a different matter when one is dealing with colour blindness, illiteracy, lack of numeracy and, yes, dyslexia; the problem risks becoming a dark secret —often concealed—for fear that it may provide grounds for non-employment, dismissal or circumstances of grave misunderstanding in the workplace. And so it is with dyslexia: the outward manifestations are, if anything, even less obvious.

When faced with such afflictions, the able bodied tend not to react in a helpful manner. My noble friend Lord Allenby referred to the issue. I suspect that that reaction is because the elements of such problems as dyslexia are concealed within all of us to a greater or lesser degree. As the demands of society, our daily life, and our high technology creep up on us, so to a greater or lesser extent all of us stand to be caught out by that process. It is a factor that we would rather not admit to. Yet, as we have heard, many famous people have been and are dyslexics and have reached the pinnacle of achievement by any standards in the comprehension and expression of ideas. I was glad to attend recently an art exhibition organised by the Adult Dyslexia Organisation, and I can testify to the ability of the exhibitors.

I am a small employer. I am also chairman of a chamber of commerce in Sussex. It is especially important that in opening the door to physical accessibility, we do not leave the door to intellectual access firmly closed. But that is what will happen if we fail to understand that the grasp of words and figures, and the recognition of ranking and sequential standards are not matters that should always necessarily be of the essence in business, the professions, the arts, management or administration.

The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, will relate to my next comment; I share with him an involvement with agriculture. I have always divided agricultural workers into two categories: they were either machine men or livestock men. If they were machine men, they could not judge whether a cow was on heat or anything to do with livestock. If they were livestock men, they did not understand that if one banged down the full load of a tractor one did expensive and often irreparable damage. As a practising chartered surveyor, my line of business is mainly to do with property. A fellow chartered surveyor once said that there were three categories of people in the property industry. They were known as finders, minders and grinders. The finders were the dealers at the front end, the guys who negotiated the transaction. They were always known to be totally useless at putting together figures or reports, or stringing together a letter. Yet those people were the mainspring of many firms so they were not to be ignored.

We have heard about technological advances; they have started to come to our assistance. I was particularly pleased to receive recently some details of voice recognition systems with direct relevance to computer applications. I believe that those systems can and will revolutionise the ability of dyslexics and others to contribute fully and effectively to the workplace and to society at large. I believe that such a lead from the front has to be a better way than more regulation and legislation. I firmly believe that anti-discrimination measures have a nasty habit of backfiring and themselves becoming discriminatory. They are to be avoided if at all possible.

The technological revolution also affects the conventional business environment, not just those who suffer from dyslexia but the employed population generally. We have heard from the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, about keyboard operation. But technology is now moving beyond the keyboard approach. It is being bypassed where it is too slow, inconvenient or inappropriate, having regard to the environment. Icons in computer software have removed the need for an instruction book, for instance. The mouse, and, more recently, the trackball have already provided shortcuts to keyboard operation. I believe that voice recognition in time will add another dimension which will make part of the keyboard function past technology. That will benefit the able and less able alike. It may free some from the need to have conventional office-bound jobs. It will open up a new dimension in employment. We heard recently that by the end of the century about 80 per cent. of business communications will be by electronic mail and that the information superhighways (as they are referred to) are with us and are being used for transactions and communication purposes.

I applaud the work that is being done in this important area of development and in the educational applications that go with it. We have heard from the British Dyslexia Association which works in the field and I pay tribute to it and others such as the National Literacy Trust. We all need to come to terms with dyslexia. Although that is good news for those who are in full-time education, we also have to consider those whom the educational system in its old technological form has failed. We need to realise that there are now dyslexic adults who are outside the classroom and lecture hall who are often parents and thus teachers of a new generation in their own terms. They must not be overlooked.

So it is important that in breaking the cycle of non-achievement and the feeling among sufferers that they will never achieve, we must tackle the adult literacy problem. How many of us can really say that we understand half the computer manuals and similar documents which have been translated thrice, which are a rich seam of transatlantic computer-speak and gobbledegook, to boot? We all need clarity and simplicity and the fact that we do not succeed in getting the message across, is at least in part our responsibility. I hope that the Government will give active support to that kind of work, particularly where in the case of voice recognition techniques there has been a happy juxtaposition of improved facilities for those who suffer from a disability, as well as being of great advantage to business and commerce in the conventional sense.

4.21 p.m.

Lord Milverton

My Lords, I rise with great pleasure to support the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on the subject of dyslexia, in particular in the workplace. First, the two words which come to my mind when thinking about the subject are "understanding" and "support" for those who have an obstacle or hurdle to overcome. Perhaps that is a nicer way to think of it than as a handicap. Initially, anyway, it is an obstacle or hurdle for them to overcome and one which, as we know, is not necessarily realised at first. It may take some time for it to be discovered, not only by the sufferer but by others. It is an unseen obstacle until, for some reason or another, it is discovered because of the person's reading, writing or some action.

It is when this unseen obstacle or hurdle becomes apparent, when someone senses that he or she has a problem to tackle, that one hopes something positive may be done. Prevention may also come about so that the unseen obstacle or hurdle does not become a handicap. That handicap is to do with reading, writing, spelling, numeracy and other difficulties such as poor concentration, lack of physical co-ordination or clumsiness. More than ever now, those difficulties can be disastrous in the world of high technology and communications which can be complicated. Computer guides and similar documents can explain subjects to me, but soon afterwards I have not much better idea of how to manage them. It is interesting to hear that those with dyslexia have an ability which the rest of us lack in such subjects.

A person may cross the obstacle or hurdle or fall at it, as occurs with many other problems which beset people. They may be able to cross them or tackle them, or else they fall, especially if the symptoms of dyslexia are mistaken for some other complaint, as can happen. I have some idea of the difficulties of dyslexia because a young nephew of mine has it.

Do we allow people with that complaint to be hindered by it or enable them to overcome the obstacle or hurdle? We should allow them to use any talents or skills that they have for positive ends. As we know from what we have been told and have read and gathered about dyslexia, they have skills and talents. That is a fact. I went to the art exhibition mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and was impressed by what I saw. We need to show sufferers patience, understanding and appreciation of any skills or talents which they possess, whether in art, literature or administration or other skills.

The increase in the expertise, knowledge and appreciation of how dyslexia can be tackled is good and should be even better. A partnership between schools, parents, the British Dyslexia Association, the Department for Education and perhaps the Department of the Environment with science and business is vital for all those who in one way or another will be involved with a man or woman, boy or girl who has dyslexia. The disease must not prevent them from being able to participate fully in life.

Some of the invisible obstacles and hurdles can prevent such participation unless we are careful. I quote from the publication Access the Word, Access the World —Dyslexia: Dyslexic people struggle in a world where effective written communication is essential. However the existence of dyslexia, or specific learning difficulties, has only recently been recognised. It is now widely accepted by most people in education. But there is a huge gap between accepting that dyslexia exists and actually doing something about it. The vast majority of young dyslexics are caught by this gap". As we know, there is a long way to go, but we have been given much information which shows that there is some hope. I quote from a newspaper article headed "Machine lifts dyslexia pain". It says: A Cambridge scientist has invented a machine to help people with dyslexia or other sight problems to read more easily". A further article by Alastair Stewart is headed: Defeating dyslexia—the story of Britain's premier architect". It states: The most crushing barrier to the child is the erosion of self-confidence". In fact it can also be the most crushing barrier for an adult if his or her self-confidence is eroded. Another document is headed: "Striking a chord with dyslexics". It says: A dyslexic musician is planning to help others with the disorder by teaching them to play the guitar". Then there is a newspaper article which is perhaps not so good: Minister refuses to help Mensa girl: Lucinda Cash-Gibson, who became the youngest member of Mensa at the age of four, has been refused state help with her school fees because civil servants say she is not bright enough to need special treatment". Perhaps I may quote these words. Some noble Lords may realise where they come from—at least I hope so. let righteousness roll down as waters, and justice as a mighty stream". I am sure that some of those present know that the quotation is from the Book of Amos in the Old Testament. The quotation is relevant to many subjects, but particularly to this one. It applies to dyslexia sufferers as much as any other concerns in life. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will be able to give us some assurances. It can be most disheartening when tackling a hindrance to encounter the scorn or laughter of one's fellows. Surely there are many adults in the workplace who know that. And, as we know, there are many young boys and girls who also know that. Let us see that dyslexia does not become a handicap. I hope that we shall have some good, healthy, hopeful reassurances from my noble friend Lord Henley when he gives the Government's outlook on the subject.

4.31 p.m.

The Earl of Macclesfield

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for raising this topic. My knowledge of the subject comes from having a daughter in her twenties who is dyslexic and an employee in his twenties who is also dyslexic. They are from totally different backgrounds. What I have learnt, and what I see, having thought about the way forward, is that to involve the Department for Education as much as the Department of Employment—there are problems which intertwine—might well be helpful.

My employee went straight through the state system, undiagnosed and untreated. As I am not qualified to diagnose dyslexia, I should not really say this, but I am quite certain that he is dyslexic. My daughter was diagnosed aged six—and basically that was a fluke. Fortunately, my former wife had taught children of that age. When collecting her daughter from school she was somewhat surprised to find that Tanya would not look her mother in the eye. Normally, on these occasions, from the other side of the fence, she had no doubt seen little children who were only too delighted to see the back of teacher and get away to mummy. Taking the view that there was nothing abnormal in herself, and as a result of one or two odd things that she had seen in writing, my wife referred the matter to a parent friend who was a remedial teacher. She took one look at my daughter's written words and said, "There is a problem here. I cannot tell you what it is, but this is where you go." One interesting point is that my daughter's condition was never actually picked up by a teacher. It will be of value that those who teach children of that age can pick up as a matter of diagnosis this type of problem and refer such children into the right system. It needs to be done as early as that.

I mentioned that Tanya would not look her mother in the eye. That is the first of the behavioural problems to which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred. At the end of the line is borstal. Let us think of what goes on in the mind of a dyslexic. At that age you feel that you are the same as your peers; you are doing everything the same; everything goes well; and you can talk equally well. The moment teacher puts a pen into your hand, whatever goes wrong (and I cannot describe it) goes wrong. As a six, seven or eight year-old, there is no way that you can turn to your teacher, even if you have the words, and say, "This is a fog. It has gone wrong. I am doing my best". At that age the child knows jolly well that the teacher will turn round and say, "Of course you're not. Don't be so silly", and you have to take the matter from there.

I have seen the funny things that come out from dyslexics—rather more from my employee. He came to me basically for a manual job. I did not realise until he had been with me for some time what I actually had on my hands—given that I had an understanding of this problem. I would rather use the word "problem" for a great many of these people than any other word. Let us not use the word "disability" until we get to a certain level, above which special treatment is required. Below that level, we all have "problems". As in Yorkshire, everybody has their problems, and even those are a bit suspect. If we can hold the matter at that level, we can start in the adult world trying to convince all and sundry that the problem is just a problem, that it pertains to the person in question, and that your own problem is another matter. It is as simple as that.

How do we achieve that? We do not achieve it until adults and teachers can see what the problem is. We have heard reference to the "invisible problems". Yes, they are—until you see what happens on paper. I—fortunately perhaps—see this regularly because I work with a dyslexic. It is a matter of curiosity. When I get back this evening, if he has taken some messages, I shall not know what the spelling will be until I get there. He will not know what he is going to write until it is down on the page. I have seen the same word written three different ways in one paragraph. That is typical. It does not upset me. I knew about it before I employed him as a result of learning about my daughter. Until all that is taken partly on board and aired, there are problems all round.

How do we start? Once we have the diagnosis, those who have only "problems" can go back into class. One hopes they will have the encouragement of the standard teacher as well as of the remedial teacher.

Certainly, with my daughter we ran into what I am convinced was a barrier: the head teacher of the junior school was not going to accept the diagnosis. If we wanted to, that was fine by her. But she did not believe in dyslexia. That approach is no good. One has to generate a certain amount of self-confidence. If a standard teacher accepts the situation, then it will be accepted in class and the personality of the teacher will simply mean that the problem is indeed accepted as a problem. There would be no bullying then. One would have defused the whole situation, and it would be out in the open. "Fine, it's your turn to go and write on the board. Oh, that word's wrong. Somebody put it right. I don't want the headmaster coming in here and seeing that word wrong on the board". That is all that has to be said to defuse the whole situation. When my daughter was diagnosed, I simply turned round to her and said, "Your brain is connected up differently. You have to be taught differently". With body language, she said, "That's fine, Daddy. Now I really do not mind if younger children catch up with me". In many respects, that is what we are talking about in trying to keep dyslexics on a level plane. They will have their problems. Somebody will turn round and say, "That's wrong". Their answer is, "Yes, I'm dyslexic'''. Providing that we can get them to say that, we have taken a step forward with them.

Noble Lords have mentioned the forms that have to be filled in. Sometimes they have to be filled in on the spot and handed over at a post office. Either you fill it in, hand it over and say, "I'm dyslexic. Please will you check the spelling", or you say, "I'm dyslexic. What has to be written here?" Nobody will refuse that request. It is a question of getting that self-confidence into those children.

In the adult world, exactly the same thing applies. I would guess that the best that we can do for adults is to get them diagnosed and to give them self-confidence. They may be in their twenties, thirties and forties. We must remove the stigma. To themselves they will appear to be "thick"—although they have got through on their own to the workplace without rolling into borstal. That is one step in the right direction. It will be some relief for them to know that their problems are, as has been said, not of their making.

I have a feeling that that is the way in which my employee has matured, if that is the right word, over the years. I should like to think that he feels easier in himself because I have said, "You needn't worry. It is not your fault. Just put it down on paper. I will sort it out later on. If you try to rely on your memory and I do not happen to come back and you forget to write it clown, then we are all in a lot of trouble". No longer does he try and avoid his problem. He knows that I understand it, and he puts the words down. That happens to give me a certain amount of understanding, and it would give me an understanding as an employer if I employed a lot of men or women. Under those circumstances I would be prepared to talk to the union representative of the noble Lord, Lord Murray, on the subject. Would he have the knowledge to talk to me?

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

With pleasure.

The Earl of Macclesfield

No, I asked whether he would have the knowledge.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

I shall try and persuade him.

The Earl of Macclesfield

Unless he has an understanding of dyslexia; unless he has worked with and seen the funny things dyslexic people do, can he say to me, "I think they can do so-and-so"? Assuming the employer has no knowledge, can the representative say, "He has this limitation, but if we stick him there he is perfectly all right and will do a good job for you".

It means educating the adult world about dyslexia and educating employees so that they understand. If we can start that process in the classroom with the other 11 children out of the 12 seeing the problems the 12th child has and seeing words being written wrongly on the board—not being able to understand why, but accepting that it happens—it will be a step in the right direction.

I shall tell your Lordships a silly story from the past, the significance of which I did not appreciate at the time. Esther Rantzen's "That's Life" programme showed a road with what should have been a large "STOP" sign. In fact it said "SOTP", the middle two letters being transposed. I did not realise at the time that it was simply the dyslexic local council worker being let loose with a paintbrush; somebody had not put the stencil down for him. It is clear that that is what happened. Nobody on that programme had the faintest idea that it was an example of dyslexia—it may have been a slip, but I feel it was dyslexia—stuck out in the road for all to see.

It must be accepted that there are certain jobs dyslexics will not be able to do and will not necessarily want to do. Adults reach a certain limit. If we take the lid off the pressure under which even those of a relatively placid nature work and help them to see that the problem is caused by the make-up of their brain, then everybody will rally round because that is human nature. That will be another step in the right direction.

The Department of Employment may be able to take a step backwards because the employer understands the problem. He has seen it. The union representative understands the problem because he has experience of it and does not go forward without that experience. It would not be any good somebody without experience coming to me. I would turn round and say, "I cannot hold this discussion. I know more about the problem than you. You do not even know how many dyslexics there are, what their problems are, what their limitations are, and whether I can help them".

Confrontation is not the way forward. Educating people as to what the problem is and how people with the problem can be assimilated into the workplace is the way forward.

4.42 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I am sure the whole House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for bringing this particular issue to our attention and for introducing the debate, and certainly for the way in which he introduced it. As he rightly says, dyslexia is a condition that few people know much about—and I include myself in that category.

It is true that in the past I worked with colleagues who turned out to be dyslexic. The two people I particularly have in mind were both extremely bright people who had worked very hard at eliminating what they saw as a disability—and had almost succeeded. One was a young woman with a good law degree who was appointed by me to a position in the union's legal department. I suspected dyslexia, but she did not tell me about it immediately. However, it did not matter in the job that she was doing. She had the assistance of an audio typist and was able to function not only well, but exceptionally well.

The other was a colleague who was a full-time official. He had no problem at all with numbers; in fact, he was exceptionally quick at arithmetical calculations —some dyslexics are. It was the written word which was a problem for him. Unlike some dyslexics, he became a very good public speaker as well as a negotiator. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, illustrated this afternoon, some dyslexics clearly have a high level of verbal skills. Again, that individual had secretarial assistance.

I make those points because it is not always understood that people suffering from this condition are frequently very bright people. It is really in an employer's interests, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, to make use of their talents even if it means giving them some help in certain directions. Moreover, there is not necessarily a problem with reading, writing and spelling, although that does occur in some cases. Many dyslexic adults can read, write and spell competently. However there is an underlying defect associated with the way information is processed which can sometimes affect organisational ability and general memory.

But those are not insurmountable barriers, as my reference to my two former colleagues testifies. How can people with these drawbacks become successful, particularly in our present highly competitive world? In many ways, when they are successful it is because they have worked hard to overcome what they see as a disability. Many are extremely sensitive about admitting that they have this condition. They develop strategies to enable them to compensate for their areas of weakness. Competence in literary skills is important, but not overwhelmingly so in all jobs. Being able to read aloud accurately and fluently is necessary in some occupations —perhaps in your Lordships' House, though I must say that I am frequently envious of those like the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who can speak long and fluently without the need to refer to a single note. But it is not always necessary to have the facility to read fluently and accurately in all occupations.

What is important in many jobs is the ability to extract relevant information from text quickly. Many dyslexic people develop such skills to a high level—perhaps higher than some others who do not start out with their disadvantage. They become exceptionally well organised in order to mask their original lack of organisational skills. It is important also to develop complementary skills. Those include the use of electronic calculators, spell checkers and personal organisers. Good keyboard skills enable dyslexic people to use word processors efficiently. As we heard from a number of noble Lords this afternoon, it is clear that many dyslexic people are extremely good at developing those skills. A tape recorder is a good way to record notes and was used extensively by the people to whom I referred earlier.

The use of office technologies, which are now widely in operation, should make it more possible for employers to engage people who are dyslexic. There is no reason why they should not be trained in the use of such technology and no reason why they should not turn out to be just as good as people who do not start out with their disadvantage. There can in fact be advantages in employing a dyslexic person, particularly one who has achieved a good academic standard, as some do. The mere fact that he or she has actually made the short list for an appointment requiring qualifications indicates that the interviewee may have qualities of persistence in the face of difficulties and the determination to overcome hurdles in the way of progress that others not similarly tested may not possess. Employers therefore need to set aside their prejudices and give dyslexic applicants the opportunity to prove their worth.

Before preparing for this debate I obtained some information from the Adult Dyslexia Organisation. That organisation was formed in 1991 because it was realised that there was a lack of recognition and support for adult dyslexics. The aim is to build up links in research and technology to secure better opportunities in education and training. However, it became clear early on that dyslexia in the workplace is a key issue: 66 per cent. of the calls which ADO received in the quarterly period October to December 1993 were from people in full or part-time employment; 26 per cent. of those felt under pressure from their employment, fearing to lose their jobs or of being demoted or passed over for promotion; 12 per cent. were in self-employment, which they had undertaken as they feared being in the employ of someone else, and 22 per cent. were under pressure from employers as they had admitted to being dyslexic and feared what that would mean for their future.

I understand that around 2.5 million people in Great 13ritain are thought to be dyslexic. As we heard, it is a disability affecting the brain and its processing of words and symbols. Government policy recognises it as a special need and obliges local education authorities to examine children with such needs and to draw up programmes of remedial action. As a number of noble Lords said this afternoon, progress for children seems to be being made. However, one of the problems is that the condition is not always recognised for what it is, or that remedial programmes will be of great assistance in enabling such children to overcome their difficulties. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, there remain problems with adult dyslexics. Many adults who are dyslexic have great difficulty in obtaining employment or keeping it when they have it. Surely the decline in manual employment has magnified those difficulties. Something needs to be done in that direction.

As many noble Lords said during the debate, there are many famous people who have been dyslexic. The actress Susan Hampshire has supported campaigns to assist dyslexics because of her own experiences. The actress Sarah Miles, in an article in Woman, describes her lack of education, despite being sent to expensive schools. Until quite recently she had never read a book, because she just could not manage it. But she trained her memory and was able to learn parts in drama off by heart, and now she has just written a book. She said that in her day dyslexia was not invented, so she had to go through the pain of ignorance because there was no such word. But now she and her young son have been diagnosed as severely dyslexic. She has had remedial treatment and she says it is a shame that it has taken half a century for her to get this far.

Clearly, she has had a great deal more assistance than many adult dyslexics have been able to have. She and other famous people—Michael Heseltine has been referred to and Albert Einstein is also said to have been dyslexic—have managed, often with much help, to break through. But there are many others who remain undiagnosed or unassisted and who, if help were given, would be able to break through and realise their own potential and creativity. I must say how much I agree with my noble friend Lord Murray who referred to the kind of steps that unions can take to ensure that people in the workplace know what dyslexia is and are able to assist in programmes to help dyslexic people. My union has a programme on disability and a disablement committee. We do our best to ensure that our membership is aware of the problems faced by such employees.

The Government have a policy, but much more needs to be done to educate employers in dyslexia and to ensure that they employ dyslexic people in appropriate jobs and give them appropriate training. It may well be, as my noble friend Lord Murray said, that we shall ultimately need legislation. But before we have that, much more surely needs to be done in the way of education and in the way of bringing government policy more to the attention of employers and more to the attention of all those concerned with operating in the workplace. In the meantime, I once again thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for allowing the House to debate this very important subject.

4.53 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Lord Henley)

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on introducing this debate. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, I also congratulate the noble Lord on speaking without notes and other noble Lords on speaking without notes. Like the noble Baroness, I must apologise for making use of notes and making use of fairly extensive notes. It was a great pleasure that so many noble Lords were able to speak, bringing their great experience, both personal and otherwise, to the debate. There are many other noble Lords apart from those who spoke today who take a keen interest in matters relating to dyslexia and who I hope very much will study the report of this afternoon's proceedings.

I was disappointed that, due to previous diary commitments, I was unable to attend the reception held by the British Dyslexia Association in the House on 23rd February when it welcomed its new president, the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. I am pleased to see that she has been able to be present this afternoon. I know that the association does some quite remarkable work, both nationally and locally through the network of local associations and professional organisations, to draw attention to the issue of dyslexia and what it means to the people concerned. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, is a vice-president of the association and I believe that my noble friend Lord Renwick is also a vice-president and a former chairman.

As is quite clear from what has been said in the debate, all too often dyslexia is misunderstood or its effects misinterpreted. Until dyslexia is diagnosed, and help given, someone with dyslexia may well be treated as if their intellectual capacity has been impaired or they have the wrong attitude, as the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, made perfectly clear. We believe that the problem is not rare. Estimates suggest that between 4 per cent. and 10 per cent. of the population has some form of dyslexia. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, made clear, the range of disability that that can induce can be very wide. As the noble Earl, Lord Macclesfield, said, in many cases it does not even lead to disability as such. I said that estimates vary between 4 per cent. and 10 per cent. Of those, around 40 per cent. will need some kind of assistance. In the past, as has been made clear—the noble Lord, Lord Addington, was the first to make it more than clear—dyslexia has been blamed on all manner of things—for example laziness or bad teaching, but neither is true. It is independent of background or intelligence.

Although not rare, dyslexia may elude early identification. The Government believe that all children with special educational needs, including dyslexia, should be identified and assessed as early as possible. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, stressed quite rightly that the debate this afternoon is about the problems encountered by dyslexics in the workplace. He said that on other occasions when this matter had been raised it had been largely from an educational point of view. We would all accept that education has to be the most important aspect and affects how people get on later in terms of where they will end up in the workplace. Very often the wrong or an inappropriate education can lead to the wrong kind of job or inappropriate employment being pursued later on.

All I want to do on the subject of education is to remind the House that my noble friend Lady Blatch introduced the Department for Education's code of practice which was debated in the House on Monday. It offers guidance to all schools and local education authorities on their responsibilities towards pupils with special needs of all kinds, including dyslexia. It will come into effect on 1st September. The codes of practice was very much welcomed by all those who spoke.

As regards the other remarks concerning education, I noted particularly the remarks of my noble friend Lord Radnor on education and the voluntary sector and on grants under the 1993 Act. There were other remarks from my noble friend Lord Milverton and the noble Earl, Lord Macclesfield. I shall certainly bring those to the attention of my noble friend Lady Blatch. It may be that she would like to respond to them, but in my position it would not necessarily be appropriate for me to respond this afternoon.

Nevertheless, we recognise that the demands of school and work are very different. The fact that an individual may have had a specific learning difficulty in school does not necessarily mean that he will have the same difficulties in a training or work environment. Equally there will be those individuals who may not be aware of any difficulties until they come to light during the time spent on a training programme or in a job or, as the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, put it, when they are about to join the Army.

There are no specific kinds of work that people with dyslexia simply have to avoid and simply cannot do. As has been made clear, there are some jobs or parts of jobs that they would find difficult to do, but that would depend very much on the type and severity of their dyslexia. As the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made clear, some forms of work would possibly be inappropriate. Some might find it difficult to cope with a job that required a close and detailed reading of a document or that required accurate spelling or skill with numbers. Other people's dyslexia might manifest itself in difficulties in remembering work sequences or patterns. It may be that the job is easy enough to do but that they would have difficulty in reading the job advertisement.

So the major question I wish to address is this: what can my Department of Employment do? I slightly reject the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that we do nothing. It is one of the more important aims of my department to assist people with disabilities to obtain and retain employment. We believe that disabled people should be given a fair chance to find employment. We believe that it is in everyone's interests to concentrate on people's abilities rather than to look at their disabilities. I greatly welcomed the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Murray, that we must appeal to the employers' self-interest. To that I can only say, "Hear, hear". That was underlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, when she spoke of some research possibly suggesting how much employers were losing out by failing to take on dyslexic people. That can be said throughout the entire field of disabilities. Employers who do not take a positive attitude towards the employment of disabled people very often risk losing out on a very large section of potential workers.

I believe that the noble Lord then went on to praise my department. We have taken a number of steps to educate and persuade employers to think and act positively about the employment of disabled people. We now have about 800 firms which have signed up and agreed to adopt our disability symbol and have therefore demonstrated their commitment to disabled people. I also know that several of the employment service's ability development centres have produced material for familiarising both specialist and mainstream staff in Job Centres with information about dyslexia and its effects.

It may help if I explain a little more what this involves. Disabled people are able to use all of our main employment and training services and programmes alongside non-disabled people. The majority of people with dyslexia whom we help use these services and schemes. Many of our employment and training programmes have relaxed eligibility criteria for people with disabilities. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked whether there was any screening at the Job Centres to find people who are dyslexic. There is no specific screening process in the Job Centres, but I can give a categoric assurance to the noble Lord that our staff are being trained in recognising when people are disabled, including when they are dyslexic—that is to say a form of disability, as other noble Lords have put it, which is not so blindingly obvious as are other forms of disability. They are being trained to recognise disability which might need some specialist help. I can also give an assurance that some of the PACTs (Placing, Assessment and Counselling Teams) have contracted with the Dyslexia Institute to provide both assessment and employment rehabilitation. That assessment can very much help to identify training that may be needed, as appropriate, for disabled people. It may also identify the type of work which it might be wise for them to pursue or rather, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, put it, to direct them away from work which would be inappropriate.

All disabled people have priority for a place on the main schemes and programmes. These include the Jobclubs, restart courses, training for work, the job interview guarantee scheme and the work placement schemes. Obviously, sometimes specialist help is necessary. That can often be provided through the national network of locally-based PACT teams which I have just mentioned. Within those PACTs, disability employment advisers (DEAs) work with employers to encourage, influence and assist them in implementing good policies and practices in this area. For someone with dyslexia, that could mean that a DEA would be available to help an employer understand the effects of dyslexia on that person or help the individual with the forms. That was a problem highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. The DEA could also provide the employer with advice and help on ways of overcoming any difficulties or limitations which the dyslexia might cause.

The disability employment advisers can also offer advice and practical help to people with disabilities to assist them in obtaining and retaining suitable employment, including access to the schemes and services which I have already mentioned as well as to the specialist help which may be appropriate.

This specialist support could involve assessment of an individual's employment needs, employment rehabilitation or access to the department's special schemes. These special schemes will include the loan of special aids and equipment. I can give an assurance to my noble friend Lord Radnor and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, who spoke about information technology, and the noble Earl, Lord Macclesfield, who mentioned voice processing, that the provision of equipment could be included in that kind of help. It would be up to the individual, together with assistance from the DEAs, to decide exactly what kind of help would be best given.

From 6th June this year all the schemes will be brought together and extended by the new access to work scheme which many noble Lords know about. This will provide more flexible help and enable a wider range of people with disabilities to be assisted by looking at and addressing the obstacles that prevent an individual from obtaining and retaining a job. For the first time this certainly could include assistance at interviews and personal support at work for someone who is dyslexic. These are additional forms of help which are not available at the moment. Obviously, we shall be able to continue to provide help in the ways I described earlier in terms of the special aids and equipment which might be of use to dyslexic people.

The local Training and Enterprise Council (TEC) for a given area may be able to help people with dyslexia acquire the skills needed by local employers. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Epping Forest, was right to stress the importance of training. It is obviously important for all of us, but particularly for dyslexics. Trainees with dyslexia may need support in learning skills and teaching not dependent on reading and writing words and numbers. Some may also need specialist teaching in foundation skills. TECs are charged with providing suitable training for people with special needs.

I believe that they are well placed at local level to provide the appropriate training opportunities, with the necessary support, for those who are diagnosed as dyslexic. Through the development of a local network of schools, career services and training providers, including specialist training, we believe that most individual needs can be met. I reject the allegations of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, of inadequacy in this particular field of careers advice and the kind of training which is available. I believe that that help should ensure that the individual's potential is realised and that maximum benefit can be achieved by employers and employees. People with dyslexia may also benefit from training with specially-trained literacy tutors.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked whether there was any working definition of dyslexia that could ensure that people 'were adequately recognised as disabled if they were dyslexic. Anyone who is substantially handicapped in realising his or her potential in the labour market as a result of some impairment such as dyslexia, falls within the definition which we use in providing employment help for disabled people. I can therefore assure the noble Lord that the PACTs that I mentioned earlier will provide help to people with dyslexia in getting jobs, as they do for many other people with disabilities.

Much the same is true as regards benefits. There is no need for a specific definition of dyslexia or, for that matter, of any other disablement when it comes to benefits. It is the effect of dyslexia or of any particular disablement which is most important in deciding whether there should be entitlement to benefits and, similarly, whether there should be entitlement to help from either the PACTs, a disablement employment adviser or all the other specialist ranges of services that are proved by my department.

I hope that I have been able to give the House some idea of how the Department of Employment's services and employment training programme can help people with dyslexia and, for that matter, other disabilities in both getting a job and remaining in a job. The programmes and services are very wide ranging so I could describe them only briefly. However, I believe that what has proved most important about this afternoon's debate is that it has provided an opportunity to highlight the issues relating to dyslexia and, I hope, to sweep away some of the many misconceptions that surround it. I believe that the debate has also drawn attention to the fact that while we cannot and must not be complacent, progress is being made; progress has been made; and progress will continue to be made.

5.11 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I should first like to thank all noble Lords who have spoken for their contributions to the debate. It has been very nice to open up the subject of dyslexia not only to a new department of government, but also to a different group of noble Lords who are concerned about this subject as it affects the largest part of the dyslexic population—that is, adults, and not just children.

I should also like to thank all those noble Lords who complimented me on speaking without notes. When it comes to dyslexia I can safely say that it is what the noble Lord, Lord Renwick, described as being "differently able". I cannot read notes accurately, therefore I do not use them. "Making a virtue out of necessity" might be another way of putting it.

I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for his answer. He started to put some flesh onto the bones of the situation facing adult dyslexics. He put down markers about where organisations such as the Adult Dyslexia Organisation, which has already been mentioned, can start to try to find the appropriate help. I hope that the Minister's words will be a guideline for all those in his department who give assistance to those with dyslexia.

I could launch into another speech and say all the things that I missed out the first time round, but I do not feel that that would be appropriate, so I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.