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The Chairman: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he must stick to the subject of his amendment and not go too wide. I have allowed him some rein, but I must reign him in now.
Mr. Harper: I am grateful for your guidance, Lady Winterton. I will finish off narrowly.
Those statistics are clear, and I think that people have got the message. This is an opportunity for the Minister to go away and look at this issue—as the Prime Minister promised that he would do last week—and come back to it on Report, if she thinks that there is something worth moving on. That would get support from not only Committee members, but from across the House and from the public.
Mr. Boswell: I assure the Committee that I do not intend to speak at length. I do not guarantee that I will always support my hon. Friend, but I have great pleasure in doing so on this occasion.
My basic support for this is on the stigma issue, but my secondary support relates to the question of what will happen in public policy. One danger is that if a Member has a sufficiently serious mental health problem—one that could result in a loss of livelihood, or the threat of a loss of livelihood—they might not seek or take help as they should, thus aggravating their problems, meaning that they are unable to resolve them, whereas they might have been able to do so if they had been attended to in good time.
My third concern is the potential for discrimination, which is more than purely formal. If we understand the importance of attending to physical disabilities—people with physical disabilities have, or should have, opportunities here—we should equally be prepared to deal with mental health issues as well.
My final concern—I look at the Annunciator as I say this—is that the provisions interact with the legislation on parliamentary standards and our conduct that is going through this place. Although I know that the Government, on reflection, have made some concessions on the matter, and I think that we should debate that Bill in its context and this Bill in this context, the Minister might well want to reflect on the fact that there is an interaction with whatever a standards authority might want to say about the fitness of persons to serve in this place and expectations.
Mr. Harper: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The body that will be set up by the Parliamentary Standards Bill does not yet exist, so clearly it has not been put into this Bill, but it would be interesting for the Minister, when she responds to this debate, to touch on whether the Parliamentary Standards Authority would be captured by the Bill, whether the public sector equality duty would apply to it, and whether that would have any bearing on my hon. Friend’s comments.
Mr. Boswell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. My concern is with the individual Member of Parliament and whether they would be disciplinable under the Parliamentary Standards Bill or sanctionable through the mental health provision. However equally, as my hon. Friend said, the Parliamentary Standards Authority will clearly be a public body discharging public functions and will, prima facie, be embraced by this Bill’s obligations, notwithstanding the fact that Parliament is probably seeking to exempt itself. There is a lot to think about. The amendment is looking not for trouble, but for a sensitive and more enlightened approach to how those difficult issues can be resolved.
The Solicitor-General: We were trying to work out what amendment 278 was for. Not unsurprisingly, we did not. Although the hon. Member for Forest of Dean clearly pinpoints an issue that looks, on the face of it, like discrimination between one kind of disability and another, that is the law, because Parliament has decided that it is so. The equality duty will operate only within the law, so even if it were applied to Parliament, it would not trump the law and get around section 141 of the 1983 Act. The way to deal with the problem is not to apply the equality duty to something that it cannot reach, but to look at repealing section 141, which others are reflecting on, partly in response to the hon. Gentleman’s question.
6.15 pm
Mr. Harper: To help the Minister, I am aware that that is how to do it. I attempted to draft such a clause, but it was not selected. The amendment was a convoluted way of getting the discussion to happen, which we have managed. That was the objective. I am aware of the appropriate solution, which is working out how to get that into law—changing the law so that that is the objective achieved. We shall not be relying on the public sector equality duty.
The Solicitor-General: As I say, other people are thinking about a way forward, now that the issue has been drawn into public focus. I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment on the basis that this is not the right place.
Mr. Harper: Your admonitions earlier in the debate and my new clause not being selected, Lady Winterton, suggest that the Bill is not the correct vehicle for bringing about that change, despite it promoting equality of opportunity for those with mental health problems and other disabilities. Given the Minister’s assurances, following the issue being raised by me at Prime Minister’s questions and by others a number of times, that other Ministers are looking at it, I am happy for the time being and, therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments made: 283, in schedule 18, page 216, line 40, leave out paragraphs (d) and (e).
This amendment is consequential on amendment 282.
284, in schedule 18, page 216, line 43, leave out paragraph (f).
This amendment would remove from the exceptions to the duty imposed by clause 143 on persons other than public authorities who exercise public functions, an exception for decisions to prosecute; accordingly, the duties imposed by clause 143 on public authorities, and others exercising public functions, will apply to such decisions.
285, in schedule 18, page 216, line 45, leave out sub-paragraph (4).—(The Solicitor-General.)
This amendment is consequential on amendment 282.
Schedule 18, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 144 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 19

Public authorities
Mr. Harper: I beg to move amendment 266, in schedule 19, page 218, line 43, at end insert—
‘The relevant qualifications regulator (The Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator—Ofqual).’.
The reason for the amendment was touched on when we debated clause 91 on qualifications bodies. I went through a number of the arguments then, so I shall not repeat them all here. I gave examples in which disabled people, specifically deaf children, when seeking to take examinations appear to have been discriminated against by examination bodies. I gave some examples in which the examination bodies did not seem to have thought creatively enough, while holding up the standards and rigours of their exams, which is clearly important, about how disabled people could be given the opportunity to demonstrate their talent and ability and to show that they were at the appropriate level of skill. The Solicitor-General rightly responded briefly and made the point that, when we came to schedule 19, we could hit the nail more firmly on the head when talking about the equality duty.
The amendment is about making sure that the qualifications regulator is explicitly mentioned as one of the bodies. I wanted to make sure that the issue was discussed, partly because of the specific cases, but I also remember a discussion that we had much earlier in the Bill concerning which bodies were included. We had a discussion at that point in response to amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green about regulators—specifically energy regulators. The Minister made the point then that it would not be appropriate to extend that particular duty to the regulators because they did not have the appropriate powers to take those steps.
If the amendment were accepted and the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator were included, I should like to explore whether it would have the appropriate powers. I think that it would because it is specifically given the power to make decisions about which adjustments should not be considered reasonable, and also about what parts of the qualification of a qualification body are not subject to adjustment.
I have specifically focused on Ofqual in England in the amendment, but there are equivalents in Wales and Scotland that I have not specifically mentioned Those regulators have powers over qualification bodies about what adjustments are reasonable or are not reasonable and, by implication, what is reasonable. They also have powers about what parts of their qualifications are not subject to adjustments and, by implication, which are.
The measure takes some decisions about competence standards and reasonable adjustments away from courts and gives it to the regulator. In this particular case, the regulator has some powers and abilities to take steps to insist that qualification awarding bodies behave in a particular way. The powers piece is made clear.
I laid out some specific examples when we debated clause 91. That can be found in the report of our proceedings in Hansard, so I shall not repeat those and I think that the Minister can remember one or two of them. My amendment seeks to find out whether she thinks that explicitly putting the qualifications regulator in the schedule would be useful and help to deal with some of the cases that I mentioned. If she does not want to accept my amendment, what alternative solution does she propose in order to deal with those examples of discrimination that I have highlighted under clause 91?
The Solicitor-General: I completely agree that Ofqual should be subject to the equality duty—it has all the roles that the hon. Gentleman has outlined. The Qualification and Curriculum Authority is subject to an existing equality duty. He has spoken about his concerns that qualification bodies need to do more to meet the needs of disabled people. We think that by showing that Ofqual is subject to that duty it will need to think more creatively about how it works with the disabled.
The specific duties consultation document proposes a duty to involve people from the protected groups, including the disabled, when drawing up policies and taking decisions. That duty will be highly relevant to engaging Ofqual in using more imaginative ways to ensure that the disabled do not suffer in their attempts to learn. There is a “but”, which concerns the peculiar state of Ofqual.
It would be useful to mention the way that we have approached schedule 19. I have already alluded to that, but I shall now do it at the right place. Ofqual exists, but only on an interim basis. The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, which is in the Lords, will put Ofqual on a statutory basis and we will put Ofqual into schedule 19 when it has that status.
As I have already said, we have a core of about 90 per cent. of public authorities already in schedule 19. However, we are talking to a number of other bodies that we think should be included in the schedule. We will update the schedule through secondary legislation before the new duty comes in, in 2011, so that there is no gap in coverage.
That is the same process that was used to build up the list of bodies subject to the race duty. I have already referred my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, who is not in his place, to that sizeable list and we are following that precedent. It allows us to have informed discussions with those we want to list. Public authorities need to let us know their views on whether they should be subject to the duty, but they need to know what the general duty is. Therefore, we have put it out publicly and we will engage with them now that they know what being a public authority will involve. We would like to deal with Ofqual at the same time, but we will definitely put it in schedule 19.
Mr. Harper: I am grateful for the Minister’s assurance. I recognised the point about the status of Ofqual, which is why I tabled the amendment to test it, but she has confirmed that once it has become a statutory body—once the other Bill has passed through Parliament—it will be included. That is what I was seeking to do. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Schedule 19 agreed to.

Clause 145

Power to specify public authorities
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
John Mason: With your indulgence, Lady Winterton, I should like briefly to comment on clauses 145 to 149. The Government appear to be aiming to create wide-ranging order-making powers for themselves to fill in the gaps in the public sector duty. Clauses 145 and 146 create powers to specify—
The Chairman: Order. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would concentrate on clause 145, which is what we are debating at the moment.
John Mason: I shall make a few comments on that clause that will apply more widely to the other clauses, but I shall not repeat it each time. Creating the powers to specify which public authorities the duty will apply to is too important to be left to secondary legislation. I should be interested to hear the Minister say why, after 10 years or so of preparation, the Government have not been able to include more detail in the Bill.
The Solicitor-General: The clause is needed to allow us to amend schedule 19 in the way that I have just described, and we intend to amend it. We have published what the general duty will involve, with the intention of extending the reach of schedule 19 to other bodies that we think should be in it, but we did not feel that it was right to do that until we had finalised the general duty. Now that duty is in the public domain we can enter into those conversations, but we need a power to add provisions, as necessary, to the schedule.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 145 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 146 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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