Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. The power proposed in the amendment is not for this to be a judicial body but for it to be an administrative agency, as is the case with the EOC and the CRE, able to investigate complaints and, where necessary, support proceedings. It is not to be a judicial body of any kind.

Lord Renton: It is very difficult to imagine how it will be able to investigate complaints without considering the evidence offered in respect of those complaints and without considering the relevant provisions of the Bill, unless it will exercise a proper judicial function.

Lord Swinfen: Will my noble friend give way?

Lord Renton: I am trying to be brief. We have gone on for a very long time. I was reluctant to speak at all. I decided to keep an open mind about this matter until I heard the debate. Having heard my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy and my noble friend Lady O'Cathain, I believe that the powers already contained in the Bill, perhaps amplified in the way that my noble friend Lady O'Cathain suggested, would be far better than risking a

27 Jun 1995 : Column 633

duplication of the jurisdiction of the courts. For that reason, with great respect to my noble friend Lord Swinfen, and knowing how zealous he is in helping disabled people, I hope that he and those supporting him will realise that they may not be doing the service to disabled people that they intend. They may be creating confusion.

Lord Swinfen: Before my noble friend sits down perhaps I may say that although I am not a lawyer I should have thought that the police, who have powers to investigate complaints under various Acts, act in an investigative role and not in a judicial role. That is what I intend in the drafting of the amendment. As I said, I am not a lawyer and I may have got my drafting wrong.

Lord Renton: My noble friend refers in his amendment to individual cases, and if he reads the rest of that subsection he will see that the opportunity of investigating a complaint goes as far as the courts will go.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: I wish to support the amendments, and in so doing I wish to read a postcard which I received this morning from a member of the public in Cornwall, who writes:

    "The Disability Discrimination Bill needs an enforcement agency ... The Disability Council will just be another talking shop, full of 'ifs, buts and maybes'. We hope the Government will recognise this omission and act constructively".

Last Sunday evening I had a call from a member of a disability group in Northallerton in North Yorkshire telling me that the Hambleton District Council was to remove a taxi man's licence because he was disabled. I was told that the taxi man had held a licence to drive a taxi for three-and-a-half years without any problems. He had passed his advanced driver's test. The man had lost an arm while in the Army. I asked why Hambleton District Council wanted to remove his licence. I was told that the official concerned did not like disabled people. I do not know whether that is fact because the issue is so recent and I have not been able to check on it, but that is what I was told.

I then asked whether the case had been taken to the local Member of Parliament. The honourable Member of Parliament happens to be the Minister for Disabled People, William Hague. I was told that he had fobbed the case off saying that it was up to the Department of Employment. But surely if the taxi driver does not have a licence to drive a taxi, the Department of Employment cannot do much—or can it?

Who will sort out those problems? Does it not show that there is a need for an agency which has expertise, is independent and can sort out all the varied and complicated issues with some clout?

I found the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, most interesting. I hope that the Government will consider what she said. The noble Baroness may agree with me that the problems of gender and ethnic minorities are not half as complicated as those of the disability issues. One of the biggest issues is this: who are disabled people and who will be covered by the Bill?

Earl Russell: Before touching on what I was going to say, perhaps I may respond briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Renton. He has touched the hub of the central

27 Jun 1995 : Column 634

issues. He suggested the danger of a concurrent jurisdiction with courts. If the commission (as I hope that it will become) were to listen to the evidence, as I agree it must, surely it would no more conflict with the courts than a solicitor does when he takes the proofs of witnesses. The hearing would be preliminary to referring a case to court if need be, or exercising conciliation. The role would be similar to that which the Equal Opportunities Commission discharges with distinction.

To enforce any such provision one needs specialist knowledge. As the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, illustrated, one needs specialist knowledge as regards disability more than with any of the other areas because of the number of different types of disability and the jigsaw problem of matching them to specific employments. Therefore the need for a specialist body in the area of disability is even greater than in race relations or sex relations.

In 1563 the Lord Keeper, Sir Nicholas Bacon, summoned the Parliament at the end of its Session for a headmasterly talking-to. He reproved it for passing large numbers of laws without thinking how they were to be executed. He said that it was like buying new gardening tools and never using them. If we do not pass Amendment No. 101 we shall be wide open to that reproach.

I have also been considering how Clause 23 and Schedule 3 to the Bill came to be drafted as they are. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), may remember moving what I believe was the first amendment that I ever heard accepted by the Government in this place. It was in a debate on the Education Reform Act 1988. It sought to remove a clause from the qualifications for membership of the National Curriculum Council which disqualified anyone who became disabled or was otherwise incapacitated from carrying out his duties. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, agreed instantly to remove the provision. On the next Bill, we immediately found a clause with identical wording. On the noble Baroness's amendment, it was instantly removed. We then found it a third time. The noble Baroness asked whether the Minister could investigate whether there was any common source for those clauses. I have since heard it suggested from a very good source that there are such things as model clauses for drafting provisions for Acts of Parliament. Therefore the question arises: what model clause has the draftsman used for drafting Clause 23 and Schedule 3 to the Bill?

To anyone who has sat through the vast series of education Acts since 1988, the answer is painfully obvious. It is the model that was used for the Universities Funding Council in the Education Reform Act 1988. But that is the wrong model. The provision was for a different duty. That Act was for the administering of funds. If one considers Section 131(4) of the Education Reform Act 1988, the first duty that it lays on the council is to be responsible for administering funds made available to the council. It is essentially an administrative model which has been spatchcocked into an advisory function, to which it is not entirely appropriate, in a situation where what we really needed was enforcement.

27 Jun 1995 : Column 635

Lord Zouche of Haryngworth: I support my noble friend's amendment. The National Disability Council in its present form is quite inadequate because it has no enforcement powers. My noble friend's amendment shifts the role of the council from being advisory to one which involves taking action to fight discrimination.

All disabled people welcome the Bill. Let us give it some teeth. It will be sad if the National Disability Council continues in its present form. It simply must have an adequate secretariat with an adequate budget so that it is in a position to investigate all cases, not just a few, and to give advice when required, with authority to use enforcement powers if and when necessary. I support the amendment.

Lord Monson: The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, among others, extolled the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission. They put them forward as models which ought to be followed in the Bill. However, I wonder whether they have read a recent newspaper interview with the distinguished dean of one of our better known medical schools. He expressed the view that race relations and equal opportunities legislation were making it much more difficult to recruit medical students of the right calibre. No longer was it possible to offer a place to a white male who was perhaps academically slightly less qualified than a female applicant, or one from an ethnic minority, but who was nevertheless much more sensitive, much more empathetic with patients and generally had a much better bedside manner than the technically slightly more qualified applicant, because if the medical school were to do so it would fall foul of anti-discrimination legislation.

5 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: This has been an interesting debate, but running through it is a point which worries me. Some people who support the Bill say, on the one hand: "This is a landmark Bill"; yet on the other hand in their speeches they do as much as they can to diminish it. They say that it will not work, it will not do the job and they devalue it. It seems to me that they are playing a dangerous game when they approach the issue of a commission with that argument.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, that I am always impressed when Opposition members quote a Government Back-Bencher as being among the finest and most able of people. That usually means that the Back-Bencher has decided not to support the Government but the party opposite on a certain issue. I am afraid that I do not fall for that, and nor, I suspect, do many of my noble friends.

The proposals in this Bill have been carefully formulated to meet the needs of disabled people, business and government. They recognise that each of these groups has different needs and seek to provide for them, building on existing expertise and using tried and tested mechanisms. We see no benefit in creating another bureaucracy while the necessary functions can be delivered more effectively by other means. Most importantly, we think our three-pronged approach,

27 Jun 1995 : Column 636

which provides a powerful body to advise government, information for business and disabled people and conciliation, advice and support to help resolve disputes, is best suited to meeting the needs of all concerned.

There has been a heavy concentration on employment, but the Committee should remember that the Bill concerns goods and services as well. In all cases, it is not about equality but about doing things to help get rid of inequality, to help people carry out a job and be provided with a service when, without those changes, they would not have such help. So it is not strictly a case of, "You must not discriminate"; it goes a step further and states: "You must do things, change things"—procedures, buildings or whatever it may be—"in order to help someone who would otherwise be discriminated against".

I suspect that the calls for a commission which I have heard today stem in part from a failure to perceive the major difference between what we propose for disabled people and the legislation that was passed in the 1970s, over 20 years ago, on sex and race. Speakers also do not understand the valuable role which we envisage that the National Disability Council will have. The council will have an influential and practical role in helping us towards a society in which disabled people no longer meet barriers to integration. It will be influential because it will be the primary source of advice to government on general issues and on whether the legislation is meeting its aims. It will provide advice both on its own initiative and when asked to do so by the Secretary of State. It will be practical because it will prepare codes of practice which business and disabled people will need to implement the legislation. We also envisage that the council will work closely with senior civil servants in developing regulations under the right-of-access provisions in the Bill.

An important part of the NDC's duties will be to keep under review the operation of the Act with the exception of aspects relating to employment. I shall return to the role of NACEPD later. Should the council find that particular groups of disabled people are having difficulty securing their rights—for example, from examining the information collected by the advice and support service—there will be a number of courses open to it. It may want the Secretary of State to commission research or to take evidence from the advice service and speak to representatives of business to identify the root of the problem. In any event, we would expect the NDC to make recommendations to government about how any problems could be overcome. The flexibility provided in the regulation-making powers contained in the Bill and the provisions for codes of practice are intended to allow the policy intention to be clarified if a particular problem arises without the need for cases to be tested through the courts. The council will have a central role in this process of clarification and refinement.

The council may also wish to take a lead in persuading industry to provide for the needs of disabled people, in a similar way to the National Council on Disability in America. This would be particularly useful in the areas of accessible design and labelling of products which cannot be dealt with by rights-based

27 Jun 1995 : Column 637

legislation. The NDC would also be able to work on other aspects of business not covered by this legislation to encourage voluntary codes of practice.

Perhaps I may turn to some of the amendments and take, first, the research amendment and the points made by my noble friend Lady O'Cathain. I can assure the Committee that the NDC will be able to ask for research to be commissioned on its behalf by the Secretary of State. Such research will ensure that it is fully informed.

The arrangements proposed in the Bill will allow the NDC to draw on the professional expertise of analytical services staff already employed by the Government, to commission independent research and to co-ordinate the use of research from reliable sources.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page