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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I would like the Minister to cherish that experience; it may be a fairly rare one for him!

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Of course I cherish it, and I look forward to retaining my excellent councillor for many years to come. Therefore I have no great difficulty about postal votes. I think they are a good thing. They are the way for some people to vote. I underline what my noble friend Lady O'Cathain said about what I think she described as rolling postal votes. I shall certainly bring to the attention of our noble friend Lady Blatch the points she made about the need to make the availability of that service more widely known. For all these reasons I do not believe that this is a sensible amendment. I hope the noble Lord will withdraw it. Just in case he is tempted to have another little walk down the Lobbies, I trust my noble friends will support me.

Lord Monkswell: I think there is general agreement that this is a probing amendment on which the Committee will not divide. I would point out to the

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Minister, however, that he criticised me a little for moving the amendment. I draw his attention to the groupings list which states:

    "Although every effort is made to secure agreement to these groupings, they remain informal and not binding. It is therefore open to any Peer to speak to an amendment in its place in the Marshalled List".

That is all that I have done this evening.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Take 100 lines!

Lord Monkswell: I can appreciate the comment about 100 lines. There was many an occasion at school when I had to take 100 lines, but it did not seem to change my response to things. That may say something about the Government's views on crime and punishment. I thank those Members of the Committee who have contributed to the discussion. I wish to make a few comments in response. First, I accept entirely the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. Postal and proxy votes are essential for those people who cannot get out of their own homes. As the Minister said, the extension of postal voting to a wider circle enables people who are away from home on business or holiday also to have a postal vote.

I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that he found them entirely satisfactory—no doubt having won elections on the basis that a majority of his electors saw fit to vote for him and he has ensured that he has a vote that is reasonable. But we need also to be aware of the wider generality of the problems of disabled people.

Lord Campbell of Croy: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I would not wish him to misunderstand me. I did not say that the result was satisfactory. When I was Secretary of State for Scotland I did for disabled people what it has just been suggested the Home Office might do more of in England and Wales. Over 21 years ago there were four years in which I was able to ensure that almost all disabled people in Scotland knew that they could have a postal vote and could get a continuing one. I did not mind which way they voted.

Lord Monkswell: I shall believe the noble Lord, even though few Members of the Committee on this side of the House believe him.

The case that the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, raised obviously has our sympathy. I was also very glad to hear the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), and I thank her for them.

Turning to the Minister's response, I was flabbergasted when he seemed to suggest that it was not necessary for service providers to make provision for the prevention of discrimination against disabled people unless they knew that such provision was needed. If one extended that philosophy right through the Bill there could be a very powerful argument for nothing to be done at all, because every service provider could turn round and say that they did not expect a disabled person to turn up and ask for a particular service. It is a very thin argument.

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The Minister has identified, quite correctly, that it is down to local authorities to make provision for the electoral system within their areas. He said that the Government make funds available. The Government do not make funds available to provide disabled access to polling stations. They provide some funds to enable temporary provision to be made, but not all access can be resolved by temporary provision. As I said in my opening remarks, it is not necessarily cost-effective to do that on a temporary basis. The Government have a responsibility nationwide to ensure that everyone has the best facilities possible to enable them to vote.

I am sorry that the Government have not seen fit even to reconsider their attitude to this issue. This is a probing amendment. We have heard the Government's response. No doubt all Members of the Committee will read the response in Hansard. In the meantime, while assuring the Minister that we may need to return to the matter, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 agreed to.

Clause 14 [Circumstances in which less favourable treatment is justified]:

[Amendment No. 72 not moved.]

11 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 73:

Page 11, leave out lines 15 to 19.

The noble Baroness said: I move Amendment No. 73 in the hope that the Minister will give the assurances that we seek.

The Bill as drafted allows service providers to charge disabled people more for any goods or services adopted or adapted for their use. That could mean that a disabled person who is blind could be charged for alternative formats such as braille regarding railcards and so on. Those who are deaf could be charged for a signer. I understand that the Government assure voluntary organisations that that should not happen, that the clause covers only exceptional circumstances such as special clothing, special shoes and so on.

We are worried by the provision. We all accept that an impairment becomes disabling largely because of the physical and social circumstances in which people find themselves. We fear that some of the costs of overcoming the limitations of their physical and social environment may be offloaded on to disabled people.

We do not expect the amendment to be costly. We believe that it has major symbolic value. The provision states basically that disabled people are not a burden but full citizens with full rights, including the right to have access to services, just as their fellow citizens do. I beg to move.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: If the amendment were successful, it would cut right across my next amendment. That amendment suggests that on an actuarial basis more should be charged.

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Lord Swinfen: I support the amendment. I believe that if the subsection were not in the Bill and the noble Baroness moved an amendment to put it into the Bill, my noble friend on the Front Bench would be likely to describe it as a wrecking amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful for the opportunity to clear up any misapprehensions about the purpose underlying this subsection. Clause 14(3) (d), which the amendment seeks to remove, is required to protect those businesses which provide special or adapted items for disabled people from accusations of unlawful discrimination where they charge more than they would charge another member of the public for a standard item. An example would be a tailor who has been asked by a disabled person to make a suit of an unusual pattern or using an unusual fabric. Such a task might take longer and require a special order for equipment and materials. It is reasonable that he should be able to charge more, just as he would charge more to any other person who wanted a special item made.

I have listened to the arguments put forward by Members of the Committee. My honourable friend the Minister of State gave a commitment that this subsection would not give businesses the opportunity to load opportunity costs on to a disabled person or allow service providers to charge more to a disabled person where they have to make their services more accessible to suit his or her disability.

In pursuance of this commitment, we have checked the drafting of this subsection very carefully. On the first of those concerns we are content that it would be unlikely to operate to allow a service provider to pass on to a disabled customer a potential loss of profit. However, we are less content that the present wording of Clause 14(3) (d) would prevent a service provider from passing on to a disabled person an amount equivalent to the expenditure he has occurred in making his service accessible to him in accordance with a duty imposed by the Act. It is certainly not our intention that, for example, a large organisation which had to produce information in an alternative format for some of its disabled customers should be able to charge them more for it.

Consequently, for the sake of clarity we shall be bringing forward an amendment at Report stage which will confirm that any increase in the cost of providing a service to a disabled person which results from compliance by a provider of services with a duty imposed on him by Section 15 shall be disregarded for the purposes of this subsection.

I hope that that allays the concern expressed by the noble Baroness and by my noble friend. I hope, too, that I have explained why it is important that the provision should not be lost from the Bill. I hope that that reassures the noble Baroness and that she will be able to withdraw the amendment.

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