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Lord Swinfen: My noble friend has given a full and interesting answer to all four amendments, providing a certain amount of encouragement. However, there is a certain amount in his reply that I am not sure I like. However, I shall read carefully what he said. It is possible that I may come back to the matter at a later stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 78 and 79 not moved.]

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 80:

Page 12, line 1, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 80, I speak briefly to Amendment No. 81. The effect of the amendment is to remove from the face of the Bill the subsection which exempts those service providers whose buildings comply with Part M of the building regulations from the requirement to make physical alterations to their premises. We have done this because, as we now believe, the provision does not wholly fulfil the Government's policy intention. But, as I shall explain, we have not abandoned our view that service providers need to be protected from double jeopardy. It may assist the Committee if I take a few minutes to explain some of the background.

For noble Lords who are unaware, Part M has operated since 1988 as that part of the building regulations which sets out what is required in the way of access for disabled people. It applies to all new non-domestic buildings and most extensions. It requires reasonable provision to be made so that disabled people can gain access to and make use of buildings including, for example, lavatories and, if relevant, audience and spectator seating. It requires facilities to be provided both for wheelchair users and for those who have impaired hearing or eyesight.

The Government take the view that service providers should be able to rely on Part M of the building regulations as representing a bona fide national standard of accessibility for disabled people. That is why we decided to include a subsection which exempts from the

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duty to make physical alterations any service provider whose premises have already complied with Part M. It is only natural justice that a service provider who sets up in a new building which complies with building regulations should be entitled to believe that his premises have been certified as accessible. Can it really then be reasonable for a court, in enforcing the Disability Discrimination Bill, to decide otherwise?

However, we now recognise that the subsection as drafted is something of a blunt instrument and that the problem needs to be tackled in a rather more sophisticated way. We know that there will be some buildings which complied with a version of the building regulations, perhaps as long ago as 1988 but which would no longer meet the requirements of the latest version. Those buildings might lack suitable accommodation for those with sensory impairments, provision for which did not figure in the early versions of the regulations. That could result in cases where a service provider might escape a duty to make an adjustment to cater for the real needs of a disabled person on what would be little more than a technicality.

This would not only be galling for the disabled person but also for any service providers who, in exactly similar premises, apart from the fact that they were built in, say, 1987 rather than 1988, would have to make an adaptation. Their building would pre-date the building regulations and could thus not claim the benefit of building regulations exemption. In fact, a case can be made for extending the coverage of an exemption to cover any feature of a building which comes up to some other nationally defined standard—irrespective of the age of the building and irrespective of whether it has ever had to comply with Part M. Not only would this put service providers in older buildings on the same footing as those in new ones, which would be equitable; it would also encourage more service providers to undertake accessibility improvements in advance of the commencement of the duty to make physical alterations.

There is much to consider here and we have yet to reach any definite conclusions on the matter. This is very likely to be one of the areas where, probably in the early part of next year, we shall be consulting with business and organisations of and for disabled people to hear their views on the best way forward.

But it is clear that the issue is too involved for simple treatment on the face of the Bill and that it would be better to use the regulation-making power available in Clause 15(6) of the Bill and pursue the point in secondary legislation where we shall have the latitude to do justice to the subtleties of the problem.

Perhaps I may briefly comment on Amendment No. 81 standing in the name of my noble friend Lady O'Cathain. We believe it to be unnecessary both because we have given a commitment to regulate in this area and because the existing regulation-making powers in Clause 15 are sufficient for the purpose.

I very much hope that with what I said earlier I have been able to inspire a sufficient degree of trust in our intentions to persuade my noble friend that she might withdraw her amendment. Nonetheless, I beg to move Amendment No. 80.

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Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): I wish briefly to support the amendment. I believe I put it down first and was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, added his name to it. I only wish that he had managed to add his name to Amendments Nos. 69 and 70. However, he cannot be perfect, I suppose.

The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said that a building that did not conform to Part M would have been built earlier but sometimes buildings which supposedly conform to that regulation do not. In some local authority areas, officials are lax in applying the rules and in other areas they are not quite aware of what is needed. Anyway, I am delighted to support the amendment.

Baroness O'Cathain: Having listened to the Minister, I am prepared not to move my later amendment on the basis of the assurance he gave.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 81 and 82 not moved.]

Baroness O'Cathain moved Amendment No. 83:

Page 12, line 47, at end insert:
("( ) Before issuing any regulations under this section, the Secretary of State shall consult such persons as he considers appropriate, including appropriate organisations representative of employers and appropriate organisations representative of disabled persons.").

The noble Baroness said: The concern is simply that without the requirement in the amendment, a costing figure in regulations or the formula for calculating it, which are important ways of delivering the clarity which the service providers require, could be changed arbitrarily. If it were decreased, it would be to the detriment of the disabled and if it were increased dramatically and suddenly, it would be to the detriment of business and customers, including the disabled. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: At this time of night, I hope it is sufficient reason for supporting the amendment to say that it would save a vast amount of parliamentary time.

Lord Inglewood: My noble friend's amendments seek to ensure that before issuing regulations under Clauses 15 or 19 of the Bill the Secretary of State shall consult with appropriate organisations representing employers and disabled people. A similar amendment has already been considered in relation to another part of the Bill and I can only reiterate what I said. I can assure the Committee that the Government intend to consult fully with interested parties before exercising the regulation-making powers contained in the Bill. This is likely to involve consulting with groups of and for disabled people and those representing the interests of business. However, I cannot agree that the Secretary of State should be under an obligation to consult with specified categories of people regardless of the subject of the regulations to be issued.

I believe that these amendments are unnecessary. The Government have made clear all along their intention to consult fully before using the powers in the Bill. Indeed, such consultation will be crucial to ensure that the regulations are fair and workable. I hope that that will provide some reassurance to my noble friend and that she will consider withdrawing the amendment.

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Baroness O'Cathain: I did not think I would get far on this amendment. I have the reassurance; I still wish it had been on the face of the Bill. I should have linked Amendments Nos. 83 and 87. I shall not move Amendment No. 87. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 83.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment No. 84 not moved.]

Clause 16 agreed to.

Clause 17 [Exemption for small dwellings]:

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 85:

Page 14, line 40, after ("person's") insert ("spouse,").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 85, I wish also to speak to Amendment No. 86. The amendments seek to clarify the exemption of "small dwellings" from the provisions on sale and letting of premises. The measures, including the small dwellings exemption, mirror those in sex and race discrimination legislation.

Clause 17 sets out the exemption for "small dwellings" from the provisions in Clause 16. These will make it unlawful for a person with the power to dispose of premises to discriminate against a disabled person.

In the provisions relating to the small dwellings exemption, the person with the power to dispose of the premises, or whose consent is required before premises can be disposed of, is referred to as the "relevant occupier". One of the conditions for the small dwellings exemption to operate is that the "relevant occupier", or a "near relative" of his, must actually live on the premises in question.

"Near relative" is defined in the earlier anti-discrimination legislation as including, among others, a person's "spouse". However, in recognition of those couples who live together before marrying (or who do not intend to marry), and in line with more recent legislation, the word "partner" has been added.

These two amendments define "partner" as the other member of a couple consisting of a man and a woman who are not married to each other but are living together as husband and wife. The need to identify whether someone is or is not a partner arises only if the "relevant occupier" is not actually present on the premises at the point in time when discrimination is alleged: for example, where he or she was temporarily away on business.

It might seem a contradiction for Clause 17 to talk about partners "living together" when in order for this provision to operate they would actually have to be apart, but I can assure the House that, just as we would not expect married couples to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week in each other's company—that is certainly true of anyone coming up to London to this House, attractive though that prospect may be to some, though, I hasten to add, not to me—the same would apply to an unmarried couple temporarily separated.

These amendments clarify the small dwellings exemption from the general provisions relating to the sale or letting of premises and I commend them to the House.

12.15 a.m.

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Earl Russell: In relation to Amendment No. 86, I congratulate the Minister on having removed one unnecessary regulation-making power.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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