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Lord Bach: My Lords, I cannot give a definite answer to the first question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, as to whether or not that will be within this calendar year. The matter is under active consideration by the Home Office. The noble Lord will know better than I what that means. There must be every chance that a fairly early conclusion will be reached. However, I cannot go further than that. My noble friend was right; the Sheehy report and all that followed did, and continues to do, quite a lot of damage.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware that many police forces have been selling police homes and police stations in rural areas. Are the Government now satisfied with the policing of rural areas in general?
Lord Bach: No, my Lords, we are not satisfied. That is the reason that extra money already has been given to ensure that policing, and particularly call-out times, in rural areas are improved. We are not satisfied. More needs to be done, and something is being done already.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, Section 37 of the Disability Discrimination Act covers the carriage of guide dogs and hearing dogs in licensed taxis. There are no powers in that Act to cover private hire cars. We shall be starting consultation this week on our proposals for implementation of Section 37. A copy of the consultation document will be placed in the Library.
Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. However, does he accept that in many parts of the country if one needs to hire a driven vehicle, one is restricted to using a private hire firm? If those hire firms decide to ban people who have with them a dog for sight or hearing support, that person is effectively restricted to their home or may be forced to pay higher sums of money for the service. Is not the Act therefore effectively condoning a form of discrimination?
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I am astonished at my noble friend's reply. Does he agree that it is obvious that blind people need to be accompanied by their guide dogs and it is therefore amazing that Section 37 of the Disability Discrimination Act has not already been implemented, especially bearing in mind that the Act itself was enacted in 1995? Does my noble friend recall that the Government stated last year that action would be taken to implement Section 37 early in the new year? He now says that considered discussions will start this week. Can he assure us that those discussions will not be protracted and that there will be no further slippage? Blind people are suffering as a consequence of lack of proper regulation.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I hear what my noble friend says in relation to the non-coverage of private hire vehicles. Nevertheless, it remains the fact that we have no powers to issue regulations covering private hire vehicles. My noble friend is right that we originally hoped to start this consultation earlier in the year. Indeed, I indicated to the House that we hoped to start it in March. It has taken slightly longer because of the need to address the issue of medical exemptions on this front. However, the consultation document requires the medical exemptions to be sorted by November this year and the full regulations to come into force in March next year. There will be no delay in that.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, the initial reply from the noble Lord indicates that the situation has not changed since his Written Answer to me on 25th May. Does he accept that a substantial and important part of the Disability Discrimination Act applies to transport? That was strongly advocated and supported in this House especially by our mobile Bench; in other words, by the "wheelchair squadron".
Lord Whitty: My Lords, that is why we prioritised the regulations covering buses, coaches and railway carriages. The regulations therefore cover much of the public transport system already. The next stage is for them to apply to taxis.
Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that among the few private hire firms that carry dogs, it is common practice to apply extra charges? In one case which recently came to my attention, the increase was 20 per cent. Will the Minister consider that for those who are on benefit that may be a severe imposition on an already limited income?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, one of the lessons one learns from sitting on these Benches is that consultation is never simple. It always appears simple at the beginning, but ends up being extremely complicated. We are talking of a consultation period of approximately three months, which is normal in such circumstances. That will cover all those who are interested in these regulations.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, can the Minister say why it has taken this Government three years to move towards consultation which, if it is going to take only three months, could have been done long ago?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, we prioritised applying regulations to buses, coaches and other areas of the transport system. We have to do this sequentially, and we are now addressing the taxi problem.
Lord Addington: My Lords, can the Minister give us an assurance that in future when the Government consider transport policy they will consider whole journeys which cover more than one type of transport? We are talking here of a broken link in the transport chain. Can the Minister assure us that in future all the various links in a journey will be brought together as a whole?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, when the noble Lord considers the Transport Bill later today and the transport plan later this week, he will find that we are addressing transport problems in a holistic way and in a way that is of benefit to the disabled members of our community.
Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend Lady Blackstone will, with the leave of the House, repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to a Private Notice Question in another place on teachers' performance pay: the High Court judgment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I regret to have to inform the House that the Chairman of Committees is somewhat unwell, and I regret even more that I therefore have to stand in to move this Motion for him. I rise to move that these reports be agreed to with double trepidation because I am not actually a member of the Liaison Committee, although I sit in attendance along with the noble Lord, Lord Winston.
The reports are the outcome of a review by the Liaison Committee of the committee activity of the House. This is the first general review of committee work since the report of the committee on the committee work of the House in 1982, which noble Lords will remember was under the chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and on which both the Chairman of Committees and I had the honour to serve.
The setting up of the Liaison Committee was one of the fruits of that work, as was the setting up of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, which I am sure we would all agree has been extremely successful. The Liaison Committee has now concluded that the time is right to build on the foundations laid by the Jellicoe Committee and to expand on the range of committee work which the House undertakes. The two reports propose the appointment of two new sessional committees, one to consider constitutional questions and the other to consider economic questions. Taken together with the new Joint Committee on Human Rights, the new committees represent a significant expansion of the House's committee activity and will require substantial additional resources. Last week the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee agreed to the provision of the necessary additional Clerks and other staff.
Finally, I should mention that the Liaison Committee shares the Jellicoe Committee's wish to continue to make regular use of ad hoc committees and recommended the appointment of an ad hoc committee on animal experimentation. The Liaison Committee would welcome your Lordships' constructive suggestions--I repeat, constructive suggestions--for future ad hoc committees. I beg to move.