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Baroness Blatch: Before the noble Lord sits down, I wish to return to a point that he made. If I referred to all small employers, I apologise. I thought I had said that many employers address the needs of their employees in a sensitive manner, particularly as regards their disabled employees. I made the point that the noble Earl made; namely, the likelihood of an employer addressing the needs of his employees is greater where a small number of employees is involved and where therefore the employers come face to face with their employees and with the physical difficulties that many of them experience. Therefore, as I say, I think in that case it is more likely that those needs will be attended to.

I made an appeal for the commission to be set up and to allow it to spend some of its time and its energy working with small employers to help them meet the

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needs of their employees--sometimes these needs are not met through ignorance--at a cost which they can bear. However, at the end of the day, the cost of compliance may threaten the survival of some small employers. That fact cannot be completely disregarded. One must consider the implications of having a job, albeit with imperfect arrangements being made for employees, as opposed to having no job at all. That is at least a consideration that has to be taken into account. I was appealing for that factor to be taken into account, but for the commission to continue to work with employers in this regard.

Further, I see no argument for exempting businesses with two employees. I can see an argument for exempting a business comprising one person as at least a self-employed person can reach a judgment as to whether the arrangements he or she is working under are acceptable. However, if we include firms with two employees in the provision, why not include those with one employee as and when that is possible with the agreement and consensus of employers, and when the Government have assessed how the commission is working?

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

Lord Carter: Before we proceed to the next amendment, I must put a proposition to the Committee. I know that there is a desire to finish the Committee stage before we discuss the orders. However, to be fair to those who will discuss the orders we should try to finish the Committee stage by about eight o'clock. I do not in any way wish to curtail the debate. If it is not possible to finish by that time, we shall have to break for dinner and then return to the Committee stage. However, if we could finish the Committee stage by eight o'clock I believe that would be in everyone's interest.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clauses 11 to 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

Lord Rix moved Amendment No. 21:

Page 9, line 6, after ("day") insert ("no later than 1st January 2000").

The noble Lord said: I firmly believe that by securing an early legislative opportunity for the establishment of a disability rights commission this Government have signalled their commitment to civil rights for disabled people. This is a move which all of us here wholeheartedly welcome. Some may therefore consider it a trite point to seek a definitive date for the full operation of the commission. However, history has taught caution in these matters. We should consider the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act which was given Royal Assent in 1986. Four sections of the Act have never been implemented over a decade later. Five sections were implemented in the year following Royal Assent and

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only two sections came into effect in the same year as the Bill was passed. We need a commission to enforce the rights of disabled people as a matter of urgency. The Disability Discrimination Act has lacked teeth for far too long. I beg to move.

Lord Swinfen: I support this amendment. In the 22 years that I have spent in this Chamber I have seen many parts of Acts passed which have not yet been brought into force. Some of those have been repealed before they have been brought into force. That adds weight to the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Rix. I believe that to impose a deadline with regard to this measure is a sensible step and would concentrate the Government's mind wonderfully.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The noble Lord, Lord Rix, is in a hurry to establish the commission, and understandably so. I know that view is shared by many Members of the Committee who over the years have spent so much time in promoting the rights of disabled people. As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, was kind enough to say, the Government share that sense of urgency. The Disability Rights Task Force was announced within months of the Government coming into power and established in December 1997. It made its recommendations on the role and functions of the disability rights commission before Easter 1998. Those recommendations formed the basis of a White Paper that was launched in July 1998. The public consultation lasted until October and the Bill received its Second Reading on 17th December. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that we have worked to a tight timetable.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has pointed out, his amendment seeks to include on the face of the Bill a deadline for the establishment of the commission and bringing into effect all the provisions of this Bill.

However, we must ensure that when the commission is established, it is able to begin to address the tasks that will face it. The preparatory work involved in setting up a new commission is considerable, for example the appointment of commissioners; the recruitment and training of staff; the procurement and possible adaptation of premises; and the design and installation of communication and office systems. Initial planning of this work has already begun but much of this work cannot commence until the Bill has received Royal Assent and the Chairman and Commissioners are appointed. It must be right for them to lead the work on putting in place the arrangements for this independent body.

While I am sure we all share the view that the commission should be operational as soon as possible, we do not believe that it would be realistic to complete the preparatory work in six months. My honourable friend the Minister for Disabled People has indicated that we expect the DRC to be established in spring 2000. We think that this is the earliest practicable date if we are to expect this new body of commissioners to get things right. But of course final decisions will need to be taken in consultation with the chairman. For those reasons I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

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7.30 p.m.

Lord Rix: If the Minister could possibly define when the spring of 2000 will be, I would feel able to withdraw my amendment.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: It would be a very unwary Minister who defined the meaning of "spring" in parliamentary or Whitehall terms. I cannot do anything more than say that spring 2000 is the date when the commission is expected to be established. The Government are determined to speed this along as much as we possibly can.

Lord Rix: I assume that we are now talking about the spring equinox, 21st March 2000. I hope that that date will be noted by the Minister. With that possible prompt for a speedy introduction of the disability rights commission, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Constitution etc.]:

Lord Morris of Manchester moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 10, line 11, at end insert (", some of whom shall have knowledge and experience of sensory impairment, learning disability and mental health problems").

The noble Lord said: At the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke, whose name is on the Marshalled List, I rise to move Amendment No. 22 and I shall speak also to Amendment No. 23. Again, I shall be brief.

The purpose of Amendment No. 22 is to trigger debate on the necessary breadth of knowledge, understanding and experience--both of types of impairment and disability discrimination--that it will be necessary to have among the commissioners. It is important that between them the commissioners should have knowledge of the full range of impairments and of disability discrimination. It is also important that among them there should be people with direct experience of the major types of impairment: physical and sensory impairments, as well as learning disabilities.

The purpose of Amendment No. 23 is to ensure that the proviso that more than half the commissioners should at all times be disabled people holds for all appointments. This is an issue of principle for disability organisations, which believe that personal experience of disability should be an important aspect informing the work of the commissioners. While there are many other necessary attributes for the post, if one accepts the premise that personal experience is desirable, the clause exempting the Secretary of State from applying the 51 per cent. quota for the position of chair sends the message that there are no suitably qualified disabled candidates. The chairman is the public face of the commission and can send a powerful message to employers and service providers about the abilities and rights of disabled people, among whom there will be many suitable candidates for the chairmanship.

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I look forward very much to what my very good friend the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will say about the amendment. I know that it will be eminently worth our attention. I beg to move.

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