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Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I wish briefly to support the amendments. The disability rights commission should also be looking at all legislation to see how it affects people with disabilities. I have been speaking in your Lordships' House on the question of disability for a number of years. Very rarely have the Bills on which I have been speaking specifically dealt with disability. But they have had an effect--or would have had an effect--on people with disabilities, and some of those effects could have been detrimental. Therefore, the disability rights commission should look at all legislation.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has raised the question of the police and where they come in on this matter. It is a very interesting point. I would only add to what he said that members of the public who unfortunately suffer from mental illness as well as mental handicap--that is what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, referred to--can be mistaken on public transport and elsewhere because they cannot express themselves very well. They look a bit odd, as if they are drug addicts and have been taking drugs. This is a particularly important area where the police ought to be very well informed and instructed beforehand.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, as my noble friend has said, these amendments seek to provide on the face of the Bill for the disability rights commission to keep under review the working of any legislation passed in future which, in whole or in part, concerns disability discrimination, and to provide for it to assist individuals in proceeding under any such legislation.

I must say at the outset that in our White Paper, Promoting disabled people's rights, we proposed that the DRC should have a duty to advise government on any appropriate subsequent legislation and the power to assist individuals with complaints as appropriate under any subsequent legislation dealing with discrimination against disabled people. I hope that that deals with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen.

However, I do not believe it would be right to seek to pre-empt decisions about what "appropriate" means in terms of future legislation and, in doing so, bypass

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detailed parliamentary scrutiny of the arrangements. For that reason alone I cannot support these amendments. Also they are unnecessary, as any future legislation could be used to make appropriate amendments to the Disability Rights Commission Act. With some further explanation of the Government's intentions, I hope I can persuade my noble friend and the other noble Lords who have put their name to these amendments to withdraw them.

The Disability Rights Task Force is considering a wide range of issues that affect disabled people with a view to making recommendations on securing comprehensive and enforceable civil rights. One part of that consideration has been the role and functions of the commission. The Government's commitment in this area is clear for all to see: we have built on the task force's recommendations and are today--not many months after having received those recommendations--taking a Bill through this House to establish a disability rights commission.

The next set of recommendations are due to be provided to government later this year. I can assure noble Lords that, just as we took seriously recommendations about the commission, so we shall take seriously the further recommendations. We will examine carefully the role of the commission in relation to any proposals which may evolve from those recommendations.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, that the task force is already examining issues concerning the police. I accept that there is a great deal of concern about police actions in certain areas and indeed in relation to the disabled. I accept the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. In advance of setting up the Commission, this matter is already being examined.

As new legislation is proposed concerning disability discrimination, that will be the time to consider changes to the role and functions of the commission. It would be a mistake to do so beforehand. It requires us to make quite sweeping assumptions, which may well not be right in the longer term. I need hardly state that Parliament is the proper place for such scrutiny, and it is Parliament which should make these judgments when we know what any new legislation is intended to achieve.

I hope, therefore, that my noble friend and the noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Swinfen, will agree to withdraw their amendments.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I am very surprised at my noble friend's comments. There is absolutely no question of pre-empting parliamentary scrutiny. The object is basically to keep under review any possible future discrimination. That kind of planning and foresight are necessary. I cannot see how my noble friend can interpret this in any way as pre-empting parliamentary scrutiny. No one would dream of doing that and it is not the object of these amendments. I am sorry that she raised that particular point. Her comments are not valid.

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That said, given the pressure of time, and recognising that my noble friend has undertaken to consider these points seriously, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Ashley of Stoke moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 19, at end insert ("; and
( ) to keep under review those parts of the Human Rights Act 1998 which it deems applicable to the elimination of discrimination against disabled people.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 16 and 17.

In Committee, in relation to the Human Rights Act, my noble friend the Minister said that this provision had been left to regulations because of the need for "a degree of flexibility" so as to allow response to changing circumstances and needs, and also to review the powers of the commission in the light of experience.

The amendment provides only general powers. We do not seek specific powers in the sense of my noble friend's interpretation. Although general, these powers are important for the commission in relation to human rights. I admit that regulations will still be necessary and will provide whatever flexibility the Government need. I therefore see no reason why the Government are unable to accept these amendments. If everything is left to regulations there is a possibility that a subsequent government could easily remove the powers. That is the last thing we want. I admit that it is an unlikely event; however, it is a possibility.

The reason for referring to the Human Rights Act on the face of the Bill is that it is profoundly important. As the Human Rights Act is enforced, its potential as a significant factor for ending discrimination against disabled people will be crucial. Its importance cannot be ignored; nor indeed can it be sidelined.

I am afraid that I am not impressed by the Government's argument that many of the provisions of the Human Rights Act will not come into force until the year 2000 and therefore should be left to regulations. Surely timing is a poor reason for objecting to these amendments. We are not concerned about when the provisions of the Human Rights Act operate, but about whether or not the workings of the provisions relevant to discrimination should be considered by the commission. That is a clear, straightforward issue.

The amendment to Clause 6 provides for the commission to assist with proceedings that are relevant to the Human Rights Act. If disabled people claim that they are being denied their rights and are being discriminated against, it is important for the commission to support them. This amendment removes any element of doubt that it can do so.

The House will note that the Human Rights Act covers education, which the Disability Discrimination Act does not. That is an important exclusion. Disabled people will be able to protest against discrimination in education only via the Human Rights Act. It is therefore not in the least surprising that disabled people feel strongly about this human rights amendment. The

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Human Rights Act is a principle of great importance for them in relation to public bodies. I hope that my noble friend will be rather more forthcoming in relation to these amendments than she was on the previous ones.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I wish only to support this amendment. In doing so, I should point out that subsection (1) of Clause 2 defines the commission's duties. Among those duties the commission is, under subsection (1)(c),

    "to keep under review the working of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995".

There is a rule that if one Act of Parliament is mentioned in a statute and others are not mentioned, the others can be ignored. We do not want that to happen. As a precaution, bearing in mind that the Human Rights Act 1998 is now part of our law, the commission should have a specific duty to consider the way in which it can affect the rights of disabled people.

I hope that I am not out of order in mentioning this point in passing. It is interesting to note that subsections (2), (3) and (5) of Clause 2 describe the powers that the Government seek for the commission. That is fair enough. However, subsection (1) should describe the commission's duties fully. That will not be done unless the Human Rights Act is mentioned.

It is arguable that another sub-paragraph should be inserted as well as that in Amendment No. 2 to provide that the commission should consider any other Act of Parliament that may be relevant to the rights of disabled people.

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