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Lord Inglewood: We are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, for tabling his amendments in this regard. He is a well-known authority on these problems. We are living in a world of increasing technological change, which provides difficulties which in this context must be overcome. I make the obvious point that the technological change can apply both to the telecommunications system and to hearing aids.

The effect of Amendment No. 41 is to enable regulations to be made prescribing the circumstances in which telecommunications arrangements made by or on behalf of an employer may give rise to a duty of reasonable adjustment. In other words, the regulations may stipulate when arrangements of this kind are to be taken to put the disabled employee at a substantial disadvantage as compared with people who are not disabled.

Clause 6(1) is intentionally drafted in general terms which we believe employers will understand. "Arrangements" is widely defined and will cover a wide range of working conditions, including what I might describe as the telecommunications environment in which the person works. I understand the noble Lord's concern that the duty on employers to make a reasonable adjustment should cover adjustments such as preventing new (digital) telephones from interfering with hearing aids and making adjustments to a telephone, or providing a telephone which is compatible for use with a hearing aid. Of course, they are subject to scientific and technological change.

I can assure the noble Lord that the duty of reasonable adjustment already covers such areas. Furthermore, the regulation-making power in subsection (7) (a) already includes the enabling power that this amendment seeks. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will reconsider and withdraw his amendment.

I turn to Amendment No. 140. I must confess to a number of difficulties with the new clause. Subsection (2) would provide for new licences to run telecommunications systems to include a requirement to establish or contribute to a telecommunications relay service, to which the noble Lord referred, for the use of people with hearing or speech impairments. This power already exists under the broadly-drafted provisions of the Telecommunications Act 1984 at Section 7(5) (a). As Members of the Committee are probably aware, Oftel has recently consulted on this issue and will be considering carefully all of the responses. I am sure such well-respected groups such as the Telecommunications Action Group and many others will have responded.

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This measure seeks to impose by legislation what we believe can better be achieved by agreement. Oftel is considering arrangements for relay services. It would be much more sensible to await the results of the consultations and its discussions with operators.

Subsection (3) seeks to amend the Telecommunications Act 1984 to require that:

    "newly manufactured apparatus be designed to provide for effective use with hearing aids that are designed to be compatible with telephones".

I cannot accept the burden that this would put on the manufacturing process.

I am sure that we all agree that there are some cases, and telephones are a good example, where a minor alteration at the design stage can save much time and money if, later on, the product has to be adapted or perhaps can negate the need for an adaptation at all. I do not believe, however, that measures in this area are really suited to an anti-discrimination Bill.

The new clause takes no account of the technical feasibility of ensuring that newly manufactured apparatus is compatible with hearing aids which may change in characteristic over time. At present, the only method of improving the performance of commonly-available hearing aids when used with telephones is, as the noble Lord explained, inductive coupling. This works well with traditional analogue fixed-wire phones and a number of models already prove it.

However, this method may not work with handsets using other technologies. Members of the Committee may be aware that there is, at present, such a problem with digital fixed-wire phones. This clause would effectively stop the sale of such handsets and the exploitation of the new technologies involved. Digital technology is flexible and might well give the customer an opportunity to adjust the incoming signal so as to maximise its audibility. When such developments may prove possible it would be foolhardy to inhibit research and development in that area.

The provisions of subsection (3) of the new clause would have a detrimental effect on UK manufacturers, on the growth of the competitive market and on consumers generally. There would be an immediate problem with European competition law in making manufacturers of any product conform to a higher standard which does not apply on the Continent. This could create barriers to trade, contrary to the internal market. I believe that would be unacceptable.

I can reassure the Committee that manufacturers and designers who supply their services directly to the public will be covered by the Government's Bill as service providers. However, it is right, I believe, not to extend legislation of this sort into the design and manufacturing process. It is not the business of government to regulate the design and manufacture decisions of British industry and this could only be achieved at a cost to its competitiveness. It is far better to trust to the market. As retailers and traders begin to get the message about how encouraging their disabled customers makes good business sense, so will the demand for goods which are compatible with the needs of disabled people increase.

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I have set out my objections to Amendments Nos. 41 and 140, but I hope that I have reassured the noble Lord in relation to those matters and that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: First, I thank the Minister for his very full and comprehensive explanation, which I greatly appreciated. I appreciated in particular what he said on Amendment No. 41. I was disappointed by his reply in relation to Amendment No. 140 but I hope that we have begun a dialogue which can continue in the months ahead. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 42:

Page 5, line 11, at end insert:
("(cc) as to steps which it is always reasonable for an employer to have to take;").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 44 and 45. We have been giving careful consideration to the regulation-making powers that are already available in Clause 6. The existing powers in Clause 6(7) (c) and (d) enable regulations to prescribe steps which are or are not reasonable for an employer to have to take in specific circumstances. However, they do not confer power to say that it is never (or always) reasonable to have to take a particular step.

Amendment No. 42 would allow regulations to prescribe a step which it is always reasonable for an employer to have to take. Amendment No. 43 would allow regulations to prescribe a step which it is never reasonable for an employer to have to take. Amendment No. 45 would enable regulations in either case to determine the issue of reasonableness by reference to the cost of taking the step concerned.

The Government have made clear from the outset that, while there is no upper financial limit to the duty on the employer to make a reasonable adjustment, should the need arise, Ministers would be prepared to consider setting a financial cap.

The additional effect of Amendment No. 45 is to enable the different approach of setting a general financial limit; for example, by providing that it is never reasonable to have to take a step which would cost more than a specified sum. Provision will also be possible under Amendments Nos. 42 and 45 for matters which will always be reasonable, including reference to the cost involved, although, here too, we have no current plans to make such regulations.

The amendments are necessary to ensure that the duty to make a reasonable adjustment can remain in general terms but that, should the need arise, burdens on employers—and this point was raised earlier during the debate—can be limited or certain adjustments can clearly be prescribed as always or never being reasonable. We have also emphasised on many occasions that no regulations will be made without prior consultation. I commend the amendments to the Committee. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 43:

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Page 5, line 13, at end insert:
("(dd) as to steps which it is never reasonable for an employer to have to take;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 44 not moved.]

Lord Inglewood: moved Amendment No. 45:

Page 5, line 16, leave out ("or (d)") and insert (", (cc), (d) or (dd)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 46 not moved.]

Lord Gladwin of Clee moved Amendment No. 47:

Page 5, line 20, at end insert:
("( ) Regulations made under section 33, 34 or 35 of the Police Act 1964 shall not discriminate against disabled persons, except in the circumstances described in section 5 of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: The amendment is designed to extend coverage of Part II of the Bill. At present, the Police Service is excluded from the legislation. On Third Reading in another place, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment, Mr. Paice, when referring to the White Paper, said:

    "The statement in the White Paper is clear. It specifically said in paragraph 3.9 that the new right

    'will cover the public and private sectors, although the Government is considering certain narrowly-defined exceptions for positions with unusually demanding all-round requirements for fitness and stamina'".—[Official Report, Commons, 28/3/95; col. 898.]

I hardly think that the whole of the Police Service is a "narrowly defined" exception.

There seems to have been no consultation whatsoever, so far as I can detect, with the Police Service about its exclusion. Was the Police Service actually sent the consultative document last year? I ask that question because I can find no response in the Red Book from any of the police authorities or the Police Federation. Indeed, I have talked to at least one chief constable and to the Association of Chief Police Officers and they knew nothing about the exclusion, but would probably not be opposed to the Police Service being included.

The Police Federation was, similarly, unaware of its exclusion but now strongly favours constables being included. Of course, the issue was not debated at all in the other place. The only reference to the civilian Police Service appears in col. 895 of Hansard on 28th March. On that occasion, the Minister was introducing amendments at the tail-end of the Third Reading debate to exclude the Armed Forces, fire fighters, prison officers and Ministry of Defence police from Part II of the Bill. The Minister said:

    "Hon. Members ... may wonder why there is no mention of ordinary police officers.

    The answer is that they clearly fall outside the Bill's provisions in any case, and mentioning them would simply cause confusion. They are not covered by part II of the Bill because they do not have contracts of service and, as they are not crown servants"

although I am quoting from Commons Hansard, the grammar at this point seems to go wrong—

    "nor are they caught by the special provisions of clause 35".—[Official Report, Commons, 28/3/95; col. 895.]

Of course police forces have fairly stringent medical tests for recruits to the service and no one is saying that a force will be required to recruit or to retain disabled people who, because of their impairments, do not have the physical or mental abilities required for the job. This

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amendment will ensure that disabled people whose impairments will not stop them from performing the tasks of a police constable, and who apply for or seek to retain employment with the police service, will not face discrimination on the grounds of their disabilities.

What about police officers who become disabled during their careers? I wish to quote from a message I received from the Police Federation today because it is concerned about this aspect of the situation. The message states:

    "Our main concern is with officers who, either through accident or illness, contract disabilities during their service. They can be medically discharged against their will, on the grounds that they are unable to perform the full range of police duties ...

    At present, an officer subject to medical discharge may appeal, but only on the grounds that the decision of the medical officer is mistaken, or on procedural points. With a disabled officer, the question is not whether he suffers from the disability, but whether it is reasonable to end his police career because of it. Too often, that decision is taken because the police force has not been prepared to consider retaining a disabled officer, or will not make provision for his employment to continue, e.g. in the case of a disabled person who needs to be in a wheelchair. At the very least, there should be an opportunity for the decision of the chief officer to discharge a police officer to be tested against national standards".

Why should the police be totally excluded from this piece of anti-discrimination legislation, particularly when they are specifically included in the sex and race discrimination Acts? Excluding the Armed Forces is understandable but the blanket exclusion of the whole of the civilian police service, the Ministry of Defence police—and I am not sure what has happened to the British transport police—and all prison officers is a mistake. I hope that the Minister will say that his department is prepared to look again at these blanket exclusions. I beg to move.

11.45 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I wish to support the amendment so ably moved by my noble friend Lord Gladwin. I think we are suggesting here—although we may want to come back to this more broadly—that the police may be in the same situation, for example, as the prison service, although not the same situation as the Armed Forces and possibly not the same as the fire brigade, in that a large part of the service requires physical mobility and physical fitness as an essential part of the job. However, there are other aspects of the service where these are not relevant to the job. I have talked to a Member of this Chamber who has senior experience of policing and I was briefed about some of the jobs that a disabled police officer may well be able to undertake including reception work at the counter, lost property work, information technology work and the like, where a lack of physical mobility or lack—if I may put it this way—of fighting fitness is not relevant. They are not out on the streets.

This is a particular issue both for the police and for prison officers because they are both services in which—if I may put it this way—physical impairment as well as, very often, severe stress may follow from being in situations associated with riots, armed raids and the like. Both services are anxious that officers who incur an

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impairment as a result of, or during the course of their active service, should have the opportunity, where appropriate, to remain in the service in appropriate jobs.

As it now stands, there is a broad assumption that somehow every member of the police force and every prison officer has to be able to patrol the streets and put on their helmets and their shields. That is not the case.

The difficulty is that aspects of both services are increasingly being civilianised. Therefore, many of the traditional jobs that a disabled police officer might have been able to do within the police service are no longer available because they are being privatised and transferred to civilian life and away from the police service. It is therefore even more important that where jobs remain which can be filled by someone who remains in active service but for whom physical mobility and full physical fitness is not required, disabled officers should have access to those jobs and should not find themselves discriminated against in a blanket fashion as is now the case.

We do not argue the case for the Armed Forces. We accept that someone working in the medical services in the Armed Forces may, in the last resort, need to fight. That is not the case with police officers or the prison service. We believe that it would help the morale of those men and women enormously if they knew that if they were to suffer stress or injury in the course of their service nonetheless there remains a future for them in that service. I hope that the Minister can respond positively to the amendment moved by my noble friend.

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