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Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amendment) (Further Education) Regulations 2007

Volume 692: debated on Tuesday 5 June 2007

rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 22 March be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these regulations are pursuant to important provisions of the Education and Inspections Act 2006. Section 6 of that Act included a series of new provisions designed to increase young people’s participation in positive leisure-time activities. This was broadly welcomed in both Houses. In January this year the legislation came into force and is now extending opportunities for young people.

Youth Matters, the July 2005 DfES Green Paper on youth activities, highlighted evidence indicating the benefits to young people of engaging in constructive out-of-school activities. Those activities were shown to aid personal and social development, diverting young people in danger of disaffection and anti-social behaviour.

However, research findings and testimony from young people themselves, which informed Youth Matters and the subsequent Youth Matters: Next Steps, published in March 2006, revealed that positive activities were frequently inaccessible, expensive, unpopular or simply unavailable. Furthermore, the evidence showed that these barriers to participation were often greatest for vulnerable and disaffected young people, who have the most to gain from participating.

For that reason we brought forward Section 6, which inserted a new Section 507B into the Education Act 1996, placing new duties on local authorities. They include a requirement to consult young people about local activities; to publicise and keep up-to-date information on things to do locally and places to go; and—the main duty—to secure, so far as is reasonably practicable, access for all young people in the authority to sufficient educational and recreational leisure-time activities for the improvement of their well-being, and sufficient facilities for these activities.

Section 6 also included, in Schedule 1 to the 2006 Act, an amendment to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to update its definition of “recreational or training facilities” so that it referred to the new legislation. Unfortunately, while Section 6 was still subject to parliamentary scrutiny, the section of the Disability Discrimination Act that we sought to amend through Schedule 1 was itself amended by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amendment) (Further and Higher Education) Regulations 2006. This rendered the Schedule 1 amendment irrelevant since it referred to a paragraph that had been amended.

We propose these regulations to remedy that straightforward error by my department. They correctly locate the new definition of “recreational or training facilities” within the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and will restore coherence within Section 6.

I hope that, on the basis of that explanation and given the warm reception originally accorded to Section 6, the House will agree these regulations. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 22 March be approved. 14th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord Adonis.)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these technical amendments and for his frankness in explaining that they are required only because of an error made by the Department for Education and Skills during the passage of the Education and Inspections Bill last year, or, as the Minister in another place, Bill Rammell, said:

“To put it bluntly, the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing”.—[Official Report, Commons, Second Delegated Legislation Committee, 25/4/07; col. 4.]

Given that it has been reported this week that the Government pass a new law every three hours, that is hardly surprising.

I declare an interest as a trustee of the Disability Partnership, a charity which seeks to offer practical ways to increase social inclusion across the disability spectrum. This is an issue of great concern to many, as was highlighted by the lengthy and earnest debate in both Houses during the passage of the Education and Inspections Bill. I do not intend to rehearse the arguments today but I take this unexpected opportunity to emphasise the need to understand and appreciate the complexities of disability.

I appreciate that much has been done to improve physical access to buildings, but this is not just about ensuring wheelchair access, important though that is. Indeed, less than 4 per cent of disabled people use a wheelchair. There is a great variance in disability and often fluctuating conditions within that disability. If we are to encourage young people to make the most of the opportunities available to them, we must respond flexibly and sensitively to their needs. Many young people with disabilities often feel insecure in unfamiliar settings. It is vital that we do not throw them in at the deep end without the necessary support and guidance to make them feel safe.

The measures set out in the Education and Inspections Act were welcomed by all sides, but will the Minister accept that we need to do more to ensure that help is given to those who are visually impaired, have hearing difficulties and who suffer from long-term chronic conditions?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this secondary legislation, which is in effect a correction. We agree with its original aim. We thank the Minister for making sure that when an error is found it is corrected. I echo the words of the noble Baroness. It is rather worrying when we are in such agreement on a matter. My interest in the cross-section of disability and the hidden types of disability is known. It is a good thing when those are taken on board and flexibility is worked into the legislation. I hope that, whatever else may be said tonight and whatever knuckles have been rapped on this matter, the Minister will tell his department that the general thrust of the measure has almost universal support.

My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome given by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. I simply say yes to the noble Baroness; I agree that more needs to be done in this area. Precisely for that reason, we introduced Section 6 and the duties that apply in respect of it. It is the reason we have produced Removing Barriers to Achievement and a whole set of other initiatives to promote the needs of young people with disabilities. It is why we have the Disability Discrimination Act and are imposing a set of new duties on local authorities, schools and other public bodies to see that they take these issues increasingly seriously. It is why we are increasing budgets in this area. I entirely agree with what the noble Baroness said. I am grateful for her forbearance and for that of the noble Lord. I hope that the House will agree to the regulations.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.45 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.07 to 8.45 pm.]