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Baroness Williams of Crosby: Once again I thank the Minister. Treasure in heaven requires to be burnished only a little in order to achieve the delights that he would like us to see. We would like to see reference to other Acts in relation to voluntary cases, particularly mental disorder cases, which may help to identify more closely the cases that the Minister has in mind. We are extremely grateful to him.

Lord Renton: Having heard three noble Lords and one noble Baroness from one party I wonder whether I dare rise to my feet.

Subsection (5) reads:

--that is clear enough--

    "or any similar provision in force in any part of the British Islands".

There was a time when the whole world considered that the whole of Ireland was part of what was called the British Isles or the British Islands. Presumably, since the Irish Free State became an independent country it will not accept the proposition that it is part of the British Islands. Therefore, this provision refers to the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man only. Technically, I believe that should be the position, but the matter should be clarified.

Lord Hylton: Like other noble Lords, I am grateful to the Government for bringing forward this new clause. However, there are one or two points that still ought to be raised.

One concerns subsection (2)(c), which reads:

    "be likely to cause danger to public health".

That may lead one to consider that anybody entering the country who may be HIV positive or suffering from AIDS or another serious communicable disease should remain in prison. I noted what the noble Lord said about substantial grounds, but perhaps it may be better to put on the face of the Bill that the substantial grounds in this instance must at least be supported by a doctor's certificate.

I now turn to subsection (4), which seems to be capable of including young offenders and first offenders. Therefore, that may be a bad omen for Amendments Nos. 114 and 115 which seek to prevent the detention of persons under the age of 18. I look forward to the comments of the noble Lord.

Lord Clinton-Davis: With the greatest respect, to a court substantial grounds are grounds supported by evidence. This is not something about which a court will be unconcerned. I would have thought that it would be much better to leave the provision as it is. In relation to causing danger to public health, I would have thought it was better that that is included in the

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matters that the court should consider, subject to the proviso that there are substantial grounds, as already stated, and that there is evidence to support that view.

Viscount Bridgeman: On this side we are in agreement with the basis of the amendment, subject to the request of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: This is positively the last time I attempt to be helpful!

My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis has put his finger on the point. One needs to look only at the wording to see that there is a presumption of release. That presumption need not be given effect if the court is satisfied that there are substantial grounds.

If someone makes an assertion of an opinion, the simplest thing to do if you are appearing for someone who is applying for bail is to cross-examine as hard, as bitterly and as viciously as possible to see whether there are any substantial grounds. With great respect, that is why the court is there. I put that point similarly in relation to a doctor's certificate. Magistrates are judicial officers and do not simply accept assertions.

I take the point about mental disorder and the Children Act. I shall look at that. Just before breaking for dinner, I am happy to be able to trump the noble Lord, Lord Renton, because the phrase "British Islands" is defined, as he will remember, in the Interpretation Act and that definition does not include the Republic of Ireland.

Perhaps I may be allowed one last self-indulgence before we break. If I accede to the seductive invitation of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and put in the words "or asylum", many people would be caught whom he does not want caught.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Burlison: I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.40 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Disability Rights Commission Bill [H.L.]

7.36 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons amendments be now considered.--(Baroness Blackstone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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[The page and line refer to Bill 73 as first printed for the Commons.]


Clause 2, page 1, line 25, after ("agency") insert ("or other public authority").

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1. The simple aim of this amendment is clarification. It removes a possible misunderstanding of the use of the term "government agency" by making clear that the Disability Rights Commission may make proposals or give other advice to any government agency or other public authority.

Noble Lords will recall that the Bill, as originally introduced, enabled the commission, for purposes connected with the performance of its functions, to give advice as to the practical application of any law. During the passage of the Bill in this House, subsection 2(2)(b) was inserted to make the power explicit in relation to a government agency. However, the term "government agency" is not entirely clear and could have inadvertently suggested that some public authorities would not be covered. The amendment extends the provision to include "other public authority" so that it is apparent, beyond doubt, that such a body is covered.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.--(Baroness Blackstone.)

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I rise to say that I welcome the extension of the definition of "public authority".

Lord Rix: My Lords, I am delighted to support Amendments Nos. 1 to 32 en bloc. As I and other noble Lords have said on a number of occasions, I am heartened that the Government have sought to drive through a piece of legislation which will fundamentally enhance the lives of millions of disabled people by seeking to ensure the delivery of full comprehensive civil rights.

In particular, I should like to thank the Minister for the way in which the Bill has been shaped and improved by the willingness of the Government to bring forward amendments in the interests of improving the remit and operation of the commission. In earlier deliberations on the Bill, we were assured that the commission will provide or arrange any support that any disabled person may require in their dealings with the commission, including the provision of advocacy support for people with learning disabilities and communication support for those with sensory impairments. I am certain that the commission will implement those commitments in practice.

We were also assured that it is inconceivable that the first chair of the commission will not be a disabled person. That is an important statement which will send a positive message to industry and should allow the commission to be headed up by an excellent authoritative figure. In terms of the appointment of individual commissioners, we have

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heard that applications from disabled people will be encouraged, including people with learning disabilities. We would warmly welcome such appointments.

The duty of the commission has been extended to include a duty to promote good practice in all fields of its activity. That will enable business and employers to access high quality advice and support in meeting their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act. Before us today we have amendments which were accepted in another place, including amendments to improve non-discrimination notices and to enable the commission to issue injunctions to prevent persistent discrimination.

I fully support these amendments and look forward to them being encompassed into statute. The effects of the Bill should not be underestimated; nor should this Government's indisputable commitment to the civil rights of disabled people. I look forward to April 2000 when the commission will be up and running, helping to ensure that communities never again treat disabled people as second-class citizens.

On Question, Motion agreed to.



Clause 4, page 2, line 36, leave out from ("Commission") to end of line 20 on page 3 and insert ("is satisfied that a person has committed or is committing an unlawful act, it may serve on him a notice (referred to in this Act as a non-discrimination notice) which--

(a) gives details of the unlawful act which the Commission has found that he has committed or is committing; and
(b) requires him not to commit any further unlawful acts of the same kind (and, if the finding is that he is committing an unlawful act, to cease doing so).
(2) The notice may include recommendations to the person concerned as to action which the Commission considers he could reasonably be expected to take with a view to complying with the requirement mentioned in subsection (1)(b).
(3) The notice may require the person concerned--
(a) to propose an adequate action plan (subject to and in accordance with Part IIA of Schedule 3) with a view to securing compliance with the requirement mentioned in subsection (1)(b); and
(b) once an action plan proposed by him has become final, to take any action which--
(i) is specified in the plan; and
(ii) he has not already taken,
at the time or times specified in the plan.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (3)--
(a) an action plan is a document drawn up by the person concerned specifying action (including action he has already taken) intended to change anything in his practices, policies, procedures or other arrangements which--
(i) caused or contributed to the commission of the unlawful act concerned; or
(ii) is liable to cause or contribute to a failure to comply with the requirement mentioned in subsection (1)(b); and
(b) an action plan is adequate if the action specified in it would be sufficient to ensure, within a reasonable time, that he

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is not prevented from complying with that requirement by anything in his practices, policies, procedures or other arrangements;
and the action specified in an action plan may include ceasing an activity or taking continuing action over a period.").

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I beg to move that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2.

In moving this Motion, with the leave of the House I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 3, 6, 9 and 12 to 32. This group of government amendments was tabled to address three commitments I gave in your Lordships' House to give further consideration to amending Clause 4 to define the scope of non-discrimination notices on the face of the Bill; amending paragraph 8(4) of Schedule 3 to require the commission to give reasons in writing if it refused to receive oral representations from a person it considered to be unsuitable; and arranging for the removal of a non-discrimination notice from the public register when the action required by the notice had been complied with. I shall deal with each commitment in turn.

I begin with the commitment to consider defining the scope of non-discrimination notices on the face of the Bill. Clause 4 originally contained a regulation-making power which would have allowed the Secretary of State to define the scope of non-discrimination notices. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and my noble friend Lord Ashley were keen to ensure that the scope of non-discrimination notices was defined on the face of the Bill. Unfortunately, my noble friend is not able to be with us tonight and asked me to give his apologies.

I am pleased to say that Amendment No. 2 would in fact define the scope of non-discrimination notices on the face of the Bill. Amendment No. 25 sets out the detailed procedure to apply to finalising action plans. Amendments Nos. 3, 6, 9, 12 to 15, 17, 19 to 23, and 26 to 32 are consequential to those amendments or have been tabled to tidy up the drafting of the Bill. It may be helpful if I outline the key elements of our proposals in relation to non-discrimination notices, as they would make some fundamental changes to the process for issuing and enforcing the requirements in such notices.

However, perhaps I may start by saying that we developed our proposals with a view to addressing the shortcomings which both the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality identified with the existing process in the light of experience. We believe that our proposals go a long way to strengthening the effectiveness of non-discrimination notices in tackling the causes of discriminatory acts that might have been committed and in putting them right. Our proposals have also been developed to take account of the real concerns that we understand have been expressed by businesses and their representatives--the Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors--which have said that it would not be appropriate to allow the commission to prescribe what changes an organisation might need to make.

I now turn to the key elements of our proposals. The amendments would give the commission a new power to identify in a non-discrimination notice, policies,

19 Jul 1999 : Column 732

practices, procedures and other arrangements which it believes have led, or contributed, to unlawful acts being committed, and to recommend what changes need to be made to address the unlawful acts and the time-scales in which those changes might be made. The amendments would also give the commission a new power to require an organisation to produce an adequate action plan within a prescribed period which would address within a reasonable time the unlawful acts that have been, or are being, committed. The action plan would be legally binding once final and its implementation would be enforceable by the commission through the courts.

It would be up to the organisation to produce the action plan, taking into account the commission's recommendations. We believe that this is the right approach. The ownership of the action plan must rest with the organisation. However, we have built sufficient opportunities into the process to allow the commission to comment on a draft action plan and provide further comments and recommendations if it thought it appropriate. Ultimately, the commission would be able to challenge through the courts whether an action plan would adequately address the unlawful acts identified in a non-discrimination notice.

As I said in my opening remarks, we believe that the amendments relating to non-discrimination notices would strike the right balance between strengthening the commission's powers to ensure that effective changes are made by an organisation as a result of a non-discrimination notice being issued, and giving the organisation ownership of its action plan.

Turning to Amendments Nos. 16 and 18, during our earlier debates I undertook to consider further an amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, which sought to amend paragraph 8(4) of Schedule 3 to require the commission to give reasons in writing where it refused to receive oral representations from a person to whom it reasonably objected as being unsuitable. I am pleased to say that Amendment No. 18 would require the commission to give reasons in writing. Amendment No. 16 is a consequential amendment which places a similar requirement on the commission to give reasons in writing in relation to paragraph 3(7).

Finally, Amendment No. 24 was tabled to address a commitment I made to give further consideration to an amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, which sought to arrange for the removal of a non-discrimination notice from the public register when the action required by the notice had been complied with. Amendment No. 24 would require the commission to put a permanent note on the public register when the requirement in a non-discrimination notice to produce an action plan has been met. As my noble friend Lord Hunt said during our earlier debates, we were sympathetic to the idea behind the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, but it raised a number of practical difficulties.

Perhaps I may explain the reasoning behind Amendment No. 24 and why we have taken a slightly different approach from that in the amendment originally tabled by the noble Baroness. First, it is important to maintain the historical accuracy of the

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public register. That is why we do not favour an approach which would involve removing names from the register. Secondly, we also believe that it is virtually impossible to note compliance with the primary requirement not to commit unlawful acts in a non-discrimination notice. That requirement is an ongoing requirement. Although it may be possible to say at a particular point of time that there appears to be compliance with a requirement, continuing compliance is much more difficult to show. It may be helpful if I give noble Lords an example.

It may be that a non-discrimination notice includes a finding that an organisation has committed an unlawful act by not providing access to a disabled lavatory. To deal with this, the action plan may state that the organisation would provide a disabled lavatory by a certain time. The organisation may comply but then decide that as that lavatory was not used very often, it should be used as storage space. This would constitute committing an unlawful act of the same kind as that stated in the original non-discrimination notice and would be a contravention of the notice.

We believe that any attempt to try to note compliance with the primary requirement not to commit unlawful acts is likely to lead to arguments and even litigation about whether an organisation has complied with the non-discrimination notice and whether it continues to comply with it. The option proposed in Amendment No. 24 is, we believe, a simpler and more objective test for noting the register.

Finally, it is helpful to remind ourselves of the experience of the existing equality commissions with non-discrimination notices. If we look back at the sex and race legislation, it is, I am glad to say, very rare that organisations are so resistant to advice on how to adhere to the legislation as to have a non-discrimination notice issued. The CRE has only issued 32 non-discrimination notices in the past 20 years or so. I very much hope and believe that that is likely to be the case with the DRC.

Given the fact that non-discrimination notices will only be issued to organisations which are being pretty resistant when all other attempts to resolve matters have failed, we believe it is right that they should be put on a public register. However, by bringing forward Amendment No. 24, we are ensuring that where an action plan is produced by an organisation, that is also on the register. I commend the amendment to the House.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2.--(Baroness Blackstone.)

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