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Lord McCarthy: I accept what the Minister says about the wording of subsection (6). However, I rise because this is our first opportunity to explore what the Government mean in Clause 33. In many ways, it is a very funny clause. Subsection (1) gives the Secretary of State the right to appoint such advisers,

We are not told who those people shall be or what kind of people they shall be. Indeed, the schedule does not tell us what kind of people they shall be. We are not told what kind of advice or assistance they shall give. We are not told with what matters relating to the employment of disabled persons they shall concern themselves; we are merely told that the Secretary of State,

    "may appoint such persons as he thinks fit".

That is subsection (1).

Subsection (2) states that such persons,

    "may be appointed by the Secretary of State to act generally or in relation to a particular area or locality".

We are not told how they are to act generally or in what way that relates to what they do in particular areas or localities.

In some ways, subsection (3) is even more curious because those people are not to receive any money—at least, they are not to receive salaries—so they will not be the kind of people the Conservatives normally appoint to such bodies. We are told in subsection (3):

    "The Secretary of State may pay to any person appointed under this section such allowances and compensation"—

this is very low-level stuff—

    "for loss of earnings as he considers appropriate".

We are talking about out-of-pocket expenses for such people, not about full-time jobs. What on earth do they do? My first question is: can the Minister tell us more about these funny people? Who are they? Where will they come from? What will they do? Most importantly, for whom will they substitute?

That brings me to subsection (6). I do not think that there is any substantial difference between the wording of the amendment and that on the face of the Bill. Subsection (6) gives the Secretary of State the power to repeal Section 17 and Schedule 2 to the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 and to abolish, at a time that seems right to him, the national advisory council or the local advisory committees. Therefore, we must ask whether the advisers have anything to do with that. Will those advisers at some time in the future do some of the work of the subsequently abolished national advisory council? Will they operate as a private army of the Secretary of State? Will they meet collectively? Perhaps they will never meet collectively because we know that the Government do not like collectivities.

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Perhaps they will be consulted individually. Will the advisers be an alternative to what we believe to be the best way of dealing with the problem if the Government want to get rid of the national advisory council, as it seems to me that they do?

It seems to us that in the end it would be better to have one council dealing with both sides of the Bill. If we cannot have a commission we will have to have, in some ways, an improved council. We would rather have that on a representative basis than have all these people who come from nowhere, who are appointed, to do we know not what, by the Secretary of State. That is what I am asking.

I have been glad to hear in the debates we have had so far, that Ministers have been prepared to say that the work of the existing council has been useful. When the Minister for Employment, Miss Widdecombe, went to the established council on 25th January, she said, among other things:

    "I know that you recommended that the new National Disability Council should take on responsibilities similar to a commission".

So we accept that that is what the old council wants to do: it wants, as it were, to disappear into a commission. But if it does not disappear into a commission, we do not mind it disappearing if it disappears into a properly constituted council, established in broad terms under the provisions of the Bill, if that is possible. I take it that it is possible, because the Minister can add to the present council's functions. He could give the present council powers to act on the employment side. That would be our chosen way of doing it. Will the Minister tell me tonight that in the end—this year, next year, some time, never—whenever they get rid of the present council for employment affairs, the Government will give its functions to the existing council and not to all these funny advisers? Even if they can say that, will they tell us what the advisers will do?

Lord Inglewood: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, for explaining that he did not understand what the clause meant. It appears on the face of it to be straightforward. I do not have a great deal to add to what he has read out to us. This is a general power to appoint advisers. We said in the consultative document that we would review the advising arrangements under the 1944 Act.

The clause gives the Government the power to set up a new advisory arrangement. The basis for payment is similar to that under the 1944 Act, which is both for NACEPD and for the CEPDs. My noble friend Lord Mackay has already described the valuable work that NACEPD does, and why we believe the council should be retained, at least for a period after the legislation is enacted.

As we have heard, NACEPD provides expert help on employment and training issues and comprises well-respected individuals in the disability world. I do not want to repeat the reasons for keeping NACEPD, because the Committee has already heard them, but NACEPD's continued existence after the employment right has been implemented is clearly something that must be considered carefully. We have already said that

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we will do so. Now, however, is not the time for that consideration. The Government have committed themselves to reviewing the position before June 1997, when the terms of office of NACEPD members end.

We shall look closely then at the situation prevailing in deciding whether it will be sensible to amend NACEPD's remit or its constitution, or whether to introduce entirely new arrangements. New arrangements could of course include the transfer of NACEPD's responsibilities to the NDC. Some Members of the Committee think that that is a desirable course of action.

Such transfer is already provided for in the Bill, because Clause 23(10) provides for the NDC automatically to take over the responsibilities currently discharged by NACEPD if it ceases to exist. No one has been appointed under Clause 33 to advise the Secretary of State. Now is not the right time to determine when NACEPD should be abolished. We should therefore not prejudge the review that will be undertaken. I am obviously interested in hearing the Committee's views now. However, it is only right for me to say in turn that I should need some persuading that it would be appropriate, within a year of the Bill's passage, to do without a specialist committee, well-equipped to consider a wide range of employment and training issues.

While the two bodies exist, we shall of course expect them to arrange appropriate means of ensuring, so far as possible, that they adopt a consistent approach towards related issues and take account of each other's views, where appropriate. We discussed that issue earlier today. As has been said, it is likely also that in appointing members to the NDC the Secretary of State will seek to provide some common membership.

For the reasons I have mentioned, I believe that it is right to maintain the current flexibility provided by the Bill. After all, the Bill's provisions are flexible. They provide for a variety of advisory arrangements, depending on what is appropriate. For example, NACEPD could be retained indefinitely or for a particular period only. If NACEPD were to be abolished, the new advisers could be appointed on national employment issues. If no such advisers were to be appointed, then the NDC would take over that role.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, will feel that he is much better informed than he was and will find this a satisfactory reply to the questions that he asked.

Lord McCarthy: If the Government cannot decide what to do about these two councils, it is not surprising that they cannot decide whether to join a single European currency.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 133 not moved.]

8.45 p.m.

Baroness O'Cathain had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 134:

Page 23, line 30, at end insert "within one year of the passing of this Act, at which time any outstanding responsibilities of the national advisory council shall become the responsibility of the National Disability Council").

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The noble Baroness said: I may not necessarily move the amendment, but I want to speak to it. My noble friend the Minister has just stolen all my thunder, because he said precisely the things that I was going to say.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that NACEPD and the NDC should work closely together, and that, if the requirement for NACEPD no longer exists, it should be subsumed into the NDC. I appreciate my noble friend's assurance that the statutory existence of both those bodies is not necessarily set in stone, because it is much better, even with common membership, to have one organisation. I have never been convinced that having two separate bodies would always be the best way, certainly in the long term. As my noble friend has given me an assurance that there will be close contact in the short term, and that the long term is to be looked at, and that NACEPD may die a happy death, I shall not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 134 not moved.]

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