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Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 100:

After Clause 22, insert the following new clause:

("Duty of local authority to provide advice

. It shall be the duty of local authorities to provide advice and assistance to providers of services with regard to their duties under section 15.").

The noble Lord said: This is the last opportunity this evening for my noble friend to accept an amendment, so I hope that he will take the opportunity. He has not done so so far on the Bill. The purpose of this amendment is to require local authorities to advise providers on access provision, probably via access officers.

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As the Committee knows, Clause 18 enables the Secretary of State to make arrangements for the provision of advice and assistance with a view to promoting the settlement of disputes arising from the Bill otherwise than by recourse to the courts. Access issues are one of the most fundamental causes and manifestations of discrimination against disabled people. The advice given to businesses and service providers in relation to the provision of access is therefore crucial in the elimination of such discrimination.

Expert advice on the provision of accessible buildings is given, and has been given for many years, by access officers employed by local authorities. The Secretary of State for the Environment, in Circular 10/82 following the Disabled Persons Act 1981 stated that,

    "local authorities may consider it desirable that they should designate one of their staff as an 'access officer' to provide a single clearly identified point of contact on questions of access for disabled people".

The first access officer was employed by Leicester City Council in 1981, and there are now over 140 access officers employed by English local authorities.

The duties of an access officer vary from authority to authority to suit the specific circumstances of local need, but the fundamental aim is to promote an accessible built environment to ensure that disabled people are not denied the opportunity to participate fully in all aspects of life as a result of the poor design of our streets and buildings. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My noble friend is certainly keen on his pound of flesh—especially after the very broad hint that we all gave him that taxis were uppermost in our minds.

We recognise that service providers will need advice on the new requirements and how best to comply with the law. That is why we are committed to ensuring that information and advice on the right of access is available to service providers. We will ensure that information and guidance will be available well before the new right of access comes into force. There will be codes of practice offering practical advice on matters such as the duty concerning refusal to serve; the requirement to change practices, policies and procedures; the requirement to provide auxiliary aids and services, where this would facilitate access; and the duty to remove physical barriers to access.

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It is that last duty that my noble friend mentioned in particular, and I am aware of the work of local authority access officers. I believe that my noble friend envisages that his amendment would extend that work to every local authority. While I acknowledge the valuable work done, I do not agree that this would be the best approach.

We wish to ensure that there is a wealth of information and guidance available to help service providers comply with legislation. It will be crucial to allow service providers and traders to plan for the changes that they need to bring about if we are to take service providers with us in our aim of including disabled people in all areas of life. Indeed, the guidance—and the certainty it will give service providers about their duties—will help ensure that the right of access works as intended.

The issue of improving access for disabled people is extremely complex. On the one hand we have the diversity of disability itself: different adjustments will be required to meet the needs of people with different impairments. On the other hand, service provision itself is immensely varied. We must consider what is needed to achieve access in such areas as retailing, leisure facilities, historic buildings (discussed earlier this evening), broadcasting and telecommunications, to name a few. Each type of service will need information and advice pertaining to its own concerns. We shall be seeking the input of experts in each field in drawing up guidance and codes of practice and we shall be keen for them to have a role in the advisory process too.

My central point is that I believe that it would be unworkable to put a statutory duty on local authorities to provide such specialist advice in each of the areas of service provision. It would be unrealistic to expect local authorities to fulfil this role. With that explanation, I hope that my noble friend will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Swinfen: I shall withdraw the amendment, but I shall also consider what my noble friend has said. It is possible that I may come back at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lucas: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.

        House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past one o'clock.

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