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House of Lords

Tuesday, 1st December 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.

Disability Rights Commission: Funding

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What level of funding is planned for the disability rights commission.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, last week Her Majesty the Queen announced our intention to bring forward legislation this Session to create a disability rights commission. We hope to introduce the Bill in the near future. We are committed to ensuring that when the disability rights commission is established it will be adequately funded to do its job effectively. In line with the usual procedure, the estimated cost of the disability rights commission will be made available in the explanatory note when the Bill is introduced.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the setting up of this commission is a great historic step towards ending discrimination against Britain's 8 million disabled people? Their new champion, opposed by the Tory Government for so long, will ensure civil rights for disabled people better than any other single act any government could have carried out. But it will require adequate funding. As the new commission's functions will be complex and go much wider than race and gender because of the great variability of discrimination, can the Minister ensure that the funding will be proportionately larger? Can that be borne in mind?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Yes, my Lords. I agree that this is a great historic decision which I am confident will promote the equalisation of opportunities for disabled people.

As regards funding, as I have already explained, estimated costs will be included in the explanatory note when the Bill is introduced. It is obviously essential that the commission is funded adequately to do the job, has high quality leadership and employs high quality staff. Of course, there are lessons to be learnt from both the CRE and the EOC in relation to budgets and I shall bear those in mind.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, will the noble Lord take very seriously the matter raised by his noble friend Lord Ashley? The consultation document issued in July said absolutely nothing about financing the commission. Does he agree that new money on a considerable scale will be needed if the commission is

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to have substantially more powers and functions than the present council on disability which was established during the last Parliament?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am quite clear that adequate funding needs to be provided for the commission to do its important job. I cannot go into the specific details of the amount of funding to be given, but noble Lords can be assured that in calculating the budget we shall take into close account the functions that the commission will have to carry out.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, if disabled people have to take matters through the courts, will they receive funding for it?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, in terms of the remit of the disability rights commission to which the noble Baroness refers, the commission will be able to assist disabled people in individual cases according to criteria to be set out when the commission comes into being.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, my noble friend will know why I, too, am grateful for his reply and delighted by the carrying into effect of this further manifesto commitment. Approximately when does he expect the Bill to receive a Second Reading in the House and when does he think education and training will be fully included in the legislation on discrimination against disabled people?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as to the Second Reading, all I can say at this stage is "very shortly". We hope that the commission will be established by the year 2000.

On the wider issue, I can tell my noble friend that the ministerial disability task force is now looking at the whole issue of comprehensive civil rights for disabled people and what is necessary to achieve that. The task force will report in July 1999.

Earl Russell: My Lords, on behalf of these Benches I extend a welcome to the proposal for a disability rights commission. I also include the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, in those congratulations.

The Minister is no doubt aware that some of the most successful commissions--notably the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality--have scored some of their greatest successes through the bringing of cases. Can the Minister assure the House that the budget for that purpose will be adequate for the needs it has to meet, and that should there be any problem in that area, it will be reviewed?

Further, will the Minister consider a remark made by the Lord Chancellor in 1563 that making good laws without implementing them is like buying a set of new garden tools and not using them? Does he agree that that judgment has stood the test of time?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, there is much in that. I thank the noble Earl for the welcome that he

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has given to this decision. I also join him in congratulating my noble friend Lord Ashley. I agree with the substance of the point he makes. Clearly, the disability rights commission will have an important role to play. I reiterate that it is our intention to ensure that the commission is adequately funded for the responsibilities that we ask it to assume.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the British Council for Disabled People while it welcomes the establishment of the commission believes that further back-up legislation that was promised when the present Government were in opposition has been forgotten? Can he give an assurance that that legislation is still in the Government's programme?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Government will consider the comments of the organisation to which the noble Lord refers. There can be no doubt at all about the Government's commitment to fight discrimination in relation to disabled people.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, can my noble friend indicate whether the commission will also have within its remit the right to look at the definition of disability which at the moment appears to be rather narrow and complex and excludes a large number of disabled people?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, a person has a disability for the purposes of the DDA if he has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. The Government believe that the definition is wider than many people believe. Nevertheless, the ministerial disability task force is reviewing the definition. If my noble friend wishes, I shall be happy to pass on her comments to that ministerial task force.

LT Fare Increases and the Environment

2.44 p.m.

Baroness Ludford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How fare rises of up to 16.7 per cent. on London Transport further their policies on combating global warming and encouraging brownfield development.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the overall package of revised fares amounts to an average increase of 4.5 per cent.--1 per cent. above the rate of inflation. No single Underground or bus fare will rise by more than 10 pence. Fares income provides a steady source of revenue for London Transport to allow it to invest in the system and to improve services to passengers. This will encourage public transport use which in turn will contribute towards our broader objectives for the environment and sustainable development.

Baroness Ludford: My Lords, while I thank the Minister for his reply does he accept that the average

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which he cites conceals a 10 per cent. rise for a zone 1 travelcard and a 16.7 per cent. rise for a short hop bus fare? Does the noble Lord agree that Londoners have borne price increases over the past 15 years of 50 per cent. in real terms while motoring costs have fallen? How does that provide an incentive for Londoners to leave their cars at home and use public transport and thus achieve the goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions? Further, how does it provide an incentive to people to reside in London and not to move out and cause greenfield development which spoils the countryside?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the shift to public transport that we need to achieve in London will comprise a package of measures, including the improvement of London Transport services which requires investment and funds. It is true that within that package some increases are significantly higher than 4.5 per cent. That is the average increase. There are some areas--for example, the carnet of 10 zone 1 tickets--where prices will be frozen to encourage commitment to the long-term use of the Underground system. As to the encouragement of people to move out, I am not sure that a 10 pence increase in Underground fares will encourage people to go and live in Reigate.

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