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Baroness Lockwood: I am grateful to the Minister for what he said. However, there is a difference between the general duty about which he spoke and to which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, referred and a specific duty which is placed upon the council. If a specific duty is placed upon the council, that means that there is an obligation on the council and on the Government to discuss the matter and consider what the council recommends.

To take the parallel with the Equal Opportunities Commission, the review of the health and safety legislation led to a number of changes in that legislation. However, where the commission has made representations on other Acts of Parliament it has been more difficult to bring about changes in those Acts. Therefore, there is a difference, which can be important.

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However, because the Minister has dealt with the amendment so sympathetically, I should like to consider what he said and perhaps return to the matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 26 [Codes of practice prepared by the Secretary of State]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendments Nos. 121 to 124:

Page 19, line 36, leave out ("against disabled persons").
Page 19, line 37, after ("employment") insert ("against disabled persons and persons who have had a disability").
Page 19, line 39, at end insert ("and persons who have had a disability").
Page 20, line 3, after ("person") insert ("or a person who has had a disability").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to the amendments. I beg to move Amendments Nos. 121 to 124 en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 26, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 27 [Further provision about codes issued under section 26]:

Baroness O'Cathain moved Amendment No. 125:

Page 20, line 19, after ("consult") insert "the National Disability Council and such other").

The noble Baroness said: I am grateful that this is one of the few areas of the Bill where consultation is specifically mentioned. However, the amendment seeks reassurance that consultation will also involve discussion with the NDC. There could conceivably be an overlap between the codes of practice under Part II of the Bill on employment and under Part III relating to goods and services. It is very important that those should be consistent.

For example, in the case of an employee working in a restaurant, NACEPD would give advice and the code of practice would specify that certain arrangements would have to be made for that disabled employee. That same restaurant would be open to disabled people. It could well be that the advice given by the NDC in terms of access would not be consistent with the advice relating to provision for the wheelchair employee in the restaurant. In order to avoid any confusion, I ask that the National Disability Council should be consulted. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: I am grateful to my noble friend for explaining her concerns about one hand not knowing what the other was doing. However, I should point out that, unless specifically asked to do so, the National Disability Council is excluded under the Bill as currently drafted from advising Ministers on specific matters relating to employment. The National Advisory Council on Employment of People with Disabilities fulfils that role, as we have already debated. However, I accept that the employment code of practice will have implications for employers and others that need to be considered in a wider context.

As my noble friend Lord Mackay mentioned, NACEPD has considerable expertise and is well respected. It has advised Ministers on a number of

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employment issues, including the Employment Service's voluntary code of good practice, the disability symbol and Access to Work, and continuously monitors the provision of employment and training programmes and services for people with disabilities. NACEPD is currently helping with issues connected with the Bill, following a request from my honourable friend the Minister of State for Employment. To that end it has set up a special working group which is looking into employment matters as they are affected by the Bill.

I mentioned earlier that it is our intention to issue a code of practice in advance of the employment provisions of the Bill coming into force. As we intend the employment provisions to commence towards the end of next year, the preliminary work on that code has already commenced and the intention is for it to be put out for formal consultation at the end of this year. Members of the Committee will be interested to note that the NACEPD working group I mentioned earlier is playing an active role in the development of the code. I make these points because, although the intention is for the National Disability Council to be established early in 1996, it may not be set up by the time the Government are ready to consult formally on the draft code and clearly can have no role in the current preliminary work.

I can, however, assure my noble friend, as my honourable friends have explained in the other place, that we will be consulting widely on our proposals for codes of practice and regulations. Those consultations will include organisations and individuals not included on the face of the Bill. I can therefore confirm that NACEPD, and the National Disability Council provided it is set up in time, will be included in any formal consultations on the code and any subsequent revisions of the code. It is unnecessary to mention that in the Bill; it could potentially cause confusion when coupled with other provisions specifically excluding employment and training matters from the National Disability Council's remit.

I hope that with that assurance my noble friend will withdraw her amendment.

Lord McCarthy: Is the noble Lord really saying that he cannot accept this very small and reasonable amendment because the Government cannot make up their mind what they want to do with these two consultative bodies? They have made provisions whereby they could keep one of them in existence for ever, get rid of one of them, or have another. The Government do not know what they want to do. Therefore, when they are asked to accept a simple amendment which provides merely that something may be done to keep them together so that they do not go in different directions, they cannot make up their mind. Why can they not make up their mind? If they cannot accept the amendment, why can they not tell us now how many councils they think we shall eventually have, and when?

Lord Swinfen: Is this not another argument for having a central authority?

Lord Inglewood: In trying to confuse me, the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, has confused himself. To go back to what I explained about timing in relation to the various bodies, the important point is that, as the

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amendment is drafted, it would be impossible for anybody to do anything until both bodies were in existence. The National Disability Council will not come into existence for a little time, long after much of the essential preliminary work from NACEPD in order to draw up the code of practice will have had to be carried out. In other words, the amendment would effectively block the proceedings which we intend to put into place to help disabled people. That would be quite contrary to the purposes underlying the Bill, whose aims I believe noble Lords opposite agree with.

7 p.m.

Lord McCarthy: The noble Baroness does not say that one can consult only the National Disability Council. If it were not there one could not consult it. The noble Baroness is saying that when the council is in existence, consult it.

Baroness O'Cathain: Perhaps I may say what I actually wanted to say. I take the Minister's point that if the council is not in existence it cannot be consulted. When the codes of practice are drawn up, I wish to ensure that there is coherence between the two councils. If NACEPD has done all the work on the codes of practice before the NDC is in existence, my amendment does not stand. However, I was reassured by what my noble friend stated: that people will be consulted on drawing up the codes of practice. Although he did not say this, there was mention earlier about there being common membership between NACEPD and the NDC. It was another point on which I wished to thank the Minister. People who are drawing up the codes in NACEPD now may eventually find themselves on the NDC. If there were any problems, they could be ironed out.

The Minister nods his head in agreement. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 126 not moved.]

Clause 27 agreed to.

Lord Carter moved amendment No. 126A:

After Clause 27, insert the following new clause:

("Obstruction by public authority

. No public authority shall unreasonably obstruct the operation of this Act where a person has acted to comply with its provisions.").

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment. I apologise for the drafting; I drafted it myself.

The purpose of the amendment is to find out the exact rights, powers and responsibilities of public authorities—I refer in particular to local authorities—in respect of the Bill when it becomes an Act. I briefed the department on the background to the amendment. I put forward the provision as a result of my experience over the past week or so which revealed to me that there may be a gap in the Bill. If not, perhaps the Minister will explain that I have analysed the situation incorrectly.

Members of the Committee who were present at an earlier debate may remember that I gave an example of a company I know which employs disabled people. It needs a ramp. The company is a tenant and the landlord

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has agreed to provide a ramp. The tenant requires access to secure employment of disabled people. Application for planning permission has been sought, received and so on. The only place for the ramp is on the pavement, on the public highway. The highways authority has said that within the existing law there is a long and tedious procedure for encroachment on the public highway. The matter can even go to a public inquiry and may take a long time. In fact, the ramp is half built, but building of the ramp has been stopped while the issue is sorted out.

I have deliberately not named the council because I am just giving an example of the grey area which may arise when the Bill becomes law. The point was made earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, when she referred to the problem of city centres.

Unless the matter is already covered in the Bill, if the ramp clearly does not interfere with movement on the pavement—in this case the pavement is extremely wide and in common sense there is no problem with the ramp—the amendment requires the public authority or the local authority not to act unreasonably. It can consider the situation and say, "We can rely on the Disability Discrimination Bill. It provides that we must not act unreasonably. Therefore, we do not have to go through this long and complicated procedure under the Town and Country Planning Act, the public inquiry route, and so on. We can rely on the Bill to provide that we are not acting unreasonably if we give permission".

At present public authorities, in particular local authorities, can put so many hurdles in the way of access or whatever that there can be a long delay and then refusal. In this case the highways authority regards as its primary responsibility to defend the safety of the highway rather than giving higher priority to providing access for disabled people and thus employment for disabled people. If the ramp is not provided, disabled people will have to be discharged from employment because the fire officer is extremely unhappy with the current access available.

As it is drafted, I am not clear that anyone will be able to call in aid the Bill in order to ask the public authority to act reasonably. The purpose of the amendment is to discover whether the Bill can be used, as it were, to force a public authority to apply the test of reasonableness in its considerations.

With regard to my specific example, there will obviously be a requirement to consult with the highways authority. The highways authority can consider the matter and say, "This is not unreasonable. Therefore we give permission. We do not have to consider all these other requirements which are largely theoretical, although legal, as overriding the responsibility for providing access for disabled people".

If the power is not built into the Bill, many necessary alterations to improve access will not take place because the owner of the building will be willing to provide access but the local authority, the highways authority or the public authority involved will say, "No. We have a higher responsibility over and above providing access for disabled people. That responsibility is under the Town and Country Planning Act to ensure that the highway is not impeded".

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The amendment probes the need for an overriding power of reasonableness so far as concerns the public authority whose consent is required. Such a power requires the authority to behave reasonably in its consideration of such matters; the authority would not be forced to rely on other Acts of Parliament which take precedence over the Bill. I beg to move.

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