Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Blatch: I certainly will not press my amendment and if I have to concede the other amendment of course I will do so. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, these are two amendments both trying to achieve the same thing. There was a slight difference of emphasis between us. I should like it to be more clear cut, but I do not believe it is.

On the other point of Amendment No. 1, the noble Baroness has given very good reasons why those words should be on the face of the Bill. The noble Baroness has not given good reasons why they should be removed from the face of the Bill. The reason why they should be on the face of the Bill, if I may paraphrase what the noble Baroness said, was to make it absolutely clear beyond any doubt whatever that the commission will have a responsibility that goes wider than the Disability Discrimination Act, and yet those words are being removed. If they were there to put this beyond doubt, they have been removed to introduce a doubt. I find that very strange indeed. I will not press that, but I do leave this debate to be continued in another place. Sadly, of course, the Bill will go to another place without these words in the Bill. I suspect that the disability groups who are outside this Chamber will read this with very great interest and will seek, I suspect, informally to find out from the department why it was that those words were removed. I will not be moving my amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 20, leave out subsection (2).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 5 [Agreements in lieu of enforcement action]:

Baroness Blatch had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 4:

Page 3, line 38, at beginning insert ("to suspend or").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in dealing with Amendment No. 4 I refer to the explanation in the very helpful letter of 19th March, although I have to say that it was an extraordinarily technical explanation and did take two or three readings before I managed to understand what it was telling me. It does, I believe, meet my concerns about a stage in the process which allows for a further opportunity to return to the investigation stage in the event that the terms of an agreement were not met. In other words, as I understand it, it gives another chance to delay (or even, we hope,

23 Mar 1999 : Column 1242

prevent altogether) the need to resort to court proceedings. I am grateful to the noble Lord for that explanation and I shall not move my amendment.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

Clause 8 [Codes of practice]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 7, line 6, at end insert--
("(10) An order under subsection (6)(c) shall be made by statutory instrument; and no such statutory instrument shall be made until it has been laid in draft before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament."").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with Amendment No. 5 we are returning to that old parliamentary chestnut of affirmative or negative resolution. In responding to my amendment on Report, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, made my case for me and reinforced the argument as to the use of the affirmative rather than negative resolution procedure.

On Report, the noble Lord said:

    "subsection (6)(c) allows the Secretary of State to revoke a code of practice",
so that it is not merely an amending regulation,

    "by order at the request of the commission. Such orders would be subject to the negative resolution procedure. The purpose of the noble Baroness's amendment is to make these orders subject to the affirmative resolution procedure ... it seems that it would be unusual for a code of practice to be revoked rather than simply being revised and reissued".--[Official Report, 11/3/99; col. 411.]

The noble Lord said that any revocation of a code of practice would be an extremely serious issue. Indeed, it would happen only on rare occasions. As I said, I am not talking about a simple amending regulation whereby extremely minor changes are made which update a code of practice. We are talking about revocation of the code itself. That may be linked to European legislation or to major shifts in legislative practice which mean that substantial changes must be made to the code.

It will be a very important code of practice. Given that it will not happen very often, it is a matter which should come before the House to be dealt with. Therefore, I ask the Minister to think again. They have confirmed that it is a serious issue and revocation will happen only rarely. But when it happens it will happen for important reasons. There will be no revocation of the code unless there is good reason for it. It seems to me that on those rare occasions the two Houses of Parliament should be given an opportunity to discuss any changes. I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I firmly support the amendment. Just because something is rare does not mean that it is unnecessary to do something about it. I have read what the noble Lord said in Committee at cols. 411 and 412 when the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred to a European directive making such a major difference in the law that it would mean the

23 Mar 1999 : Column 1243

withdrawal of the existing code. I felt that that was very much in support of the noble Baroness's amendment. I hope that the Government will accept it.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I too support the amendment. As the House knows, I have spent many years fighting for the rights of disabled people. The beginning of the clause refers to,

    "employers, service providers or other persons".
The codes of practice referred to in the clause are relevant not only to disabled people. They affect large chunks of the business community and other communities in this country. They may have a considerable effect on them. I think it only fair to them, as well as to disabled people, that the matter should be discussed properly in Parliament. That means that an affirmative rather than a negative resolution procedure should be used. I am sure that Parliament as a whole, with the affirmative resolution, will make certain that the rights of disabled people are looked after and balanced properly with the needs of the business community at the same time.

We must remember that if we make life too onerous for businesses, there will not be employment for anyone, let alone disabled people. There is still a tendency among many people to let disabled employees go before their able-bodied employees. Many able-bodied people still have no understanding of disability or what disabled people are capable of doing. I believe that the amendment is much more important than my noble friend indicated when she moved it.

Lord Addington: My Lords, we on these Benches have had a fairly consistent attitude towards secondary legislation and feel that it should be examined and discussed wherever possible. I feel a considerable degree of sympathy for the amendment and with this general approach and hope that the Government are able to give a reasonably positive response. This is a matter of principle that we should encourage. It must be remembered that disability legislation has a great tradition of being driven into Parliament from pressure groups and that could happen again. Generally speaking, this sort of legislation should be open to the greatest possible level of scrutiny.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, stated, we return again to this Parliamentary chestnut and to the debate on whether orders made by the Secretary of State revoking the code of practice should be subject to the affirmative rather than the negative resolution procedure. I have considered the amendment further, but I have to say that I am not persuaded to change my mind.

I refer to the points that I made both in Committee and on Report. First, the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation has given careful consideration to all the regulation-making powers contained in the Bill and indicated that it was content. The Committee was set up with a specific function to consider all forthcoming Government legislation and to advise on whether the regulation-making powers

23 Mar 1999 : Column 1244

contained in each Bill allow for sufficient parliamentary scrutiny. I believe that we must have regard to those views.

Secondly, in the majority of cases, revoking of a code of practice would be a tidying-up exercise brought about simply by the fact that the old code was so substantially changed that it would be a new, rather than a revised, code. I accept the point to which the noble Baroness referred--the point that I made on Report--that there may be unusual circumstances surrounding the revocation of a code of practice where Parliament may have views.

However, that does not suggest that all orders revoking codes of practice should automatically be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. The really substantive point is that the negative resolution procedure would allow debate to take place if the circumstances of revoking a particular order warranted it. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will not feel it necessary to press her amendment.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it is true that we greatly value the work done by the scrutiny committee. I believe that the House has a very fine record of always accepting its views, particularly the recommendations made where it believes that a power is being exceeded. However, we do not have to stop there or hide behind what a committee does not say. Therefore, I do not believe that is an argument for not accepting the amendment.

I believe this to be an important issue, in particular because of the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth. We are now at a time where European directives make substantial differences to the way in which our own legislation works. There has to be modification.

Perhaps I may refer once more to revocation of the whole code rather than amending regulation. Revocation of the whole code is done for substantial reason. That will not be done very often but, where it is, it seems to me that, in the interests of the workings of the Disability Discrimination Act and of the disability rights commission, it is important that both Houses have an opportunity to discuss any substantial changes.

I heard what the Minister said about the House possibly having an opportunity to discuss it, but that is only if the government of the day and the usual channels decide that time would be given for that. What we are talking about--

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page