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Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): I add my warm support to these amendments, particularly those to which I added my name and also Amendment No. 108, to which there was no room to add my name. The amendments were clearly and comprehensively explained in detail by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and I should like to go back briefly to look at the evidence on the need for a strong body.
Way back in 1982, when the Committee on Restrictions Against the Disabled was conducting its investigations, members visited both the CRE and the EOC. They also sought information on the experience in other countries. The evidence collected led CORAD to recommend that, with anti-discrimination,
What is important is that CORAD found that in every case where such legislation had been passed an enforcement body had been necessary. It concluded that a commission or council with powers to help individual disabled people enforce their legal rights and powers to undertake general investigations was vital to the success of any legislation to eradicate discrimination against disabled people.
As the Bill stands, the NDC lacks those powers. As the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, explained, it is predominantly an advisory council. It is unable to investigate individual cases, to conciliate, to take legal action on behalf of an individual and, very important, to undertake general investigations to determine whether someone is following the procedures that might lead to discrimination. With regard to the first three shortcomings, the Government recognise the need to help disabled people who are subject to discrimination. As the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, in the field of access to goods and services they asked NACAB to do the job, which felt that it could not agree to it. As the noble Lord said also, where will disabled people go for advice if the amendments are not accepted?
As to the question of investigatory powers, one of the most important means of amicablyI stress "amicably"improving practice in commerce and industry in relation to disabled people would be to empower the NDC to undertake general investigations. It would be both an efficient and cost-effective means of advising and educating firms and businesses as to how they can benefit both themselves and disabled people by avoiding discriminatory practices. As it stands, Clause 23 falls short on all four of those counts. That is why I hope the Committee will support the amendments.
Lord Rix: I am by nature an optimist and therefore I hope that our brief sojourn into the territory of Clause 23(4) of Part IV of the Bill in Committee on 13th June (col. 1739), guided perhaps inadvertently by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, is but a harbinger of good tidings to come as we debate the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, in regard to the National Disability Council.
On paper the National Disability Council looks significantly different from the commission for which some of us have argued over months or indeed years. I suspect that it is popularly perceived among those who are concerned, but who have not read the Bill, as having rather less relevance to the day-to-day business of disability and discrimination than the City livery companies have to the day-to-day business of manufacture and trade. I would give it rather more credit for a potentially useful role. However, the noble Lord,
The Government do not, I imagine, want their Bill to be or be seen to be a pussycat where a tiger is needed and are concerned to face a future debate about the renewal of their party mandate with the credit of having at least taken a serious swipe at unfair discrimination. That credibility seems to turn in large measure on Clause 3. Moreover, there must be some question about the ability to attract the best people to serve on the council if that council is popularly perceived as being of very limited usefulness. In short, and despite what I take to be the Treasury concerns about opening a pandora's box, I think that the Government need to move at least some way down the road that the noble Lord has invitingly marked out for them.
The amendments that we are considering say that disabled people are important, that the barriers society places in their way are substantial, that the task of removing those barriers is a high priority and that we need to dedicate to that task resources adequate for its completion. That approach to the issue seems to me to be wholly logical. The opposite approach, of sticking with a council which has been so heavily and so widely criticised, seems not to be logical. Saul would have had even less credit for his contributions to the major debates of his day had he sent David into battle with Goliath armed with a sling but with a strict ban on the use of pebbles.
If we do not make any progress today I hope to come back to your Lordships at a later stage with some ideas for a more modest strengthening of the council. However, I hope that we can make progress today in the interests of the Government, who deserve credit for turning into the paths of righteousness if not yet into the ways of peace, in the interests of building the sort of partnership that can be built around this Bill and, above all, in the interests of the disabled people whose rights we are debating and whose cause we all support.
Lord Campbell of Croy: I am glad to follow the Biblical references of the noble Lord, Lord Rix. After two previous very long days in Committee on the Bill, some of us felt rather more disabled than we were before. I expect and look forward to another long day, moving on into the night.
My noble friend Lord Swinfen has very clearly explained the purpose of his amendments. As your Lordships know, I have been involved in this subject for a very long time. The Private Member's Bill which I introduced in another place in 1968, 27 years ago, was entitled The Disablement Commission Bill. It would have established a commission with very much less power and fewer functions than the National Disability Council. That did not save it from being opposed by the Labour Government of the day. After its Second Reading debate it was defeated by only four votes. I have a copy of it with me. Its last clause stated:
I am afraid that that was not to be. The Bill had seven sponsors, including Mr. James Griffiths, who had been in a Labour Cabinet, Lady Vickers anda very important sponsorthe noble Lord, Lord Ashley. He and I are the only two survivors of the eight who at that time introduced and sponsored the Bill.
The noble Lord and I have been involved in this subject over the years. We do not always agree on the means to achieve our goals but it is interesting for the record that we are the survivors of that Bill. I had been in Parliament for nine years; the noble Lord had been in Parliament for two years. But as far back as 1968 we worked together in raising the subject of disablement and pressing the government of the day to take it up. At last this is happening. A government are taking up the subject.
As regards Amendment No. 101, it would add enforcement powers and additional functions to the council. The Government's proposals in the Bill are for an advisory body only. The comparisons which have been made in the past with the commissions dealing with equal opportunities and race are not valid. Even in these days of sex change operations, discrimination, if it occurs against women or men, does not raise doubts about their gender. It is a single, straightforward condition. In contrast, the range of disabilities is vast. There are many kinds of physical disability, including degrees of sight and hearing, and of mental illness and learning difficulties. There are also huge differences in degree, from the very severepeople who are completely immobilisedto the very slight, though, of course, I quickly point out that even the loss of one finger can be very damaging for someone who is a professional pianist. I shall not dilate upon this subject because I initiated a whole debate in the House on 14th December last about the many different disabilities which we must consider. The information is set out in the record and can be looked up.
The proposed bodythe councilwill be considering situations involving, for example, the completely bed-bound and very severely disabled immobile person as well as the outwardly able-bodied suffering from mental illness or dyslexia, blind persons and the aged, who are by far the largest group where goods and services are concerned and who are disabled by arthritis or other afflictions which arrive normally late in life. Those categories are very different from each other. The Equal Opportunities Commission starts with the simple fact that a person is female or male. Similarly, with regard to the Race Relations Commission, which was referred to at earlier stages of the Bill, although there are several ethnic minorities, the commission deals with situations and problems which are shared by them all. I must declare an interest. I have been for many years the patron in chief of the Scottish Pakistani Association. The Pakistanis are the largest ethnic group in Scotland. Under race and gender it is not normally necessary to determine first whether someone is eligible under the Act. Under this Bill the definition "substantial impairment" and other parts of the Bill will have to be looked at very carefully to see whether someone qualifies at all to be considered under its provisions. There is also a completely new concept
I incline to the view that an advisory body is more appropriate in this Bill in the widely varying circumstances and the miscellaneous conditions of disabled people whose problems are not just of access but of a hundred or more different kinds. An important point is that the NDC proposed in the Bill can offer advice to the Government on its own initiative. That advice can be on discrimination in general concerning disabilities and on the operation of the Bill when it has been enacted. If the Government resist the suggestions of the council or take a very long time to respond, there appears to be nothing to prevent the NDC from making its views public while preserving the confidentiality of any individual case. I should be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could confirm whether that is so. That would certainly bring public pressure to bear upon the Government. One would hope that that would seldom be necessary and that good relations would subsist between the council and the government of the day.
The NDC as proposed by the Government raises some questions. First, I am concerned whether it will have adequate resources and whether facilities will be available to it; for example, when it needs to commission research into a particular matter and where government assent might be withheld in reasonable cases. We hope that the Government will give an assurance that there will be no withholding of assent unless they were quite ridiculous proposals.
How will the NDC workmy noble friend raised this pointwith the existing National Advisory Council on the Employment of People with Disabilities, which is due to be wound up in due course, according to Clause 33? Will the NDC then take over some or all of that council's responsibilities in the employment area? I shall want to receive assurances from the Government on these questions in considering their proposals for the council. I accept the Government's proposals for the new body in general, but I believe that these questions need to be answered and we want satisfactory answers.
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