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Lord Addington: My Lords, merely the exercise might show us what a mess we are in.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, I have a nasty feeling it would continue to show the mess that we are in. Anyone who has dealt with a consolidation Bill will realise that it is only a technical exercise.
However, the noble Lord made a good point in stressing the importance of co-ordination between different government departments. As he rightly says, a number of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, in his opening remarks go across government departments. Clearly, the question of transport is relevant not only in the context of the disabled and the Department for Work and Pensions but also in the context of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. That is important.
I come to this debate as a comparatively new boy. Other than on welfare Bills involving largely financial matters, I do not think that I have spoken on disability matters of the kind raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, this evening. On previous occasions they have been dealt with by my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever, who has a great deal of expertise and interest in this area. I am sure that he will wish to speak on these matters on future occasions. I, however, come to this set of issues comparatively fresh.
To speak more personally, I looked today at the Disability Alliance's annual review for the year 2000-2001. The alliance stresses the extraordinary successI think that is the right descriptionof the UK team in the Paralympic Games in Sydney. It points out that it is engaged in dealing with these matters in relation to UK sport, formerly with Sport England. It is a long time since I was an active athletesomething like half a centurybut I well remember at that time organising athletic events for the disabled. Such events have remarkable importance so far as concerns their personal outlook on life. We should do everything possible to encourage disabled people in these endeavours, whether in the Paralympics or in small local eventsor, for example, in the London Marathon, where I am usually astonished at the efforts of people in wheelchairs.
My reason for raising the point in this contextand it may possibly require legislationis that the Disability Alliance points out that it gives advice to individual disabled athletes on the impact that lottery funding may have on their social security benefits. I have not given the Minister notice of this question. We need to consider carefully whether, if they are in receipt of lottery funding, it ought to have any impact on their social security benefits. I see that the noble Baroness is not sure. It is a point that we need to examine carefully. In the context of whether another disability Bill is necessary it is worth looking at.
The history of these matters goes back to the Private Member's Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, in 1970 in another place. The noble Lord has made a big contribution in this area. It continues through the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 put forward by my right honourable friend Mr William Hague. Since then, there has been some disappointment regarding government progress in these mattersnot least at the withdrawal of 12 charities from the Disability Benefits Forum, which I understand no longer exists. On the other hand, I pay tribute to the progress made by the Government with regard to the establishment of the Disability Rights Task Force and the
Outside organisations have raised a number of issues. There was disappointment that the response to points on transport has been that the Government are consulting. The Minister mentioned that they were consulting on the issue in July. Perhaps she could bring us up-to-date on progress and, more particularly, whether definitions of disabilityfor example, as regards cancer, or whatever it may beare required.
The Minister suggested that blind people were automatically passported through the system. That seems in conflict with representations that I have received from the Royal National Institute for the Blind which believes that those individuals originally recognised as being blind need to go through a review every so often. Definition is important. On extensions to small firms, the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, pointed out that 2004 seems a fairly lengthy period of adjustment for companies to provide for those who have disabilities at work.
It would be helpful if the noble Baroness could summarise the further steps which could be taken without legislation; those which could be taken through secondary legislation; and, finally, what plans the Government have for those areas which can be provided for only by primary legislation.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I shall do my best. As usual, the whole House will be grateful to my noble friend Lord Ashley for providing the opportunity to debate this matter. Legislating to strengthen and improve the rights of disabled people is of prime importance. As noble Lords have acknowledged today, and without wishing to sound complacent, we have a record which is second to none of any country of which I am aware, with the possible exception of American civil rights legislation which has developed to some extent along a slightly different path.
We have already established a Disability Rights Commission. That is a significant step and one which was omitted from the Disability Discrimination Act. And we have started to put right other major omissions from the Disability Discrimination Act such as legislating in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 to bring within the scope of the DDA discrimination in the provision of education.
When talking about such steps, it may be appropriate to respond as far as I can to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about consolidation. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. Since the DDA was introduced in 1995 it has been amended significantly by only one other Actthe Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001. Therefore it is too early to think about consolidating those two Bills.
We need, for example, to take forward our obligations under Article 13 relating to the employment directive. The noble Lord perhaps was suggesting that we seek to consolidate the interface with other departmentsthe Department of Health, and so on. Other legislation deals with a variety of issues which do not turn on whether discrimination has occurred. For example, the primary matter for the health service may be the extent of disability rather than discrimination and, therefore, the support which may need to be given as of right by local authorities. I do not think that it is appropriate to try to consolidate to that extent. However, I am sure the noble Lord is right that over the years consolidation will be needed. But at the end of the day employers and disabled people want helpful advice and guidance from the local officesthe CAB and such organisationsrather than legislation, which most of them will not read.
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 deals with education. In addition, from October 2004 the final phase of Part III of the DDAit will require reasonable adjustments to physical features of premises where access is impossible or unreasonably difficultwill come into force. That will be supported by a revised code of practice which will be issued early next year.
These are important changes to the current framework but, on their own, they are not sufficient to meet our 1997 manifesto commitment to support comprehensive civil rights for disabled people. The language used today about the need to keep building on it is right. That is why we established an independent Disability Rights Task Force to advise us on how best to take forward our overall commitment to civil rights. In its 1999 report, From Exclusion to Inclusion, the task force made 156 wide-ranging recommendations. Some required the Government and other public bodies to make changes to the way in which administrative or other procedures are operated. Others required legislative action such as bringing education within the scope of the DDA; and, as I have mentioned, we have done that.
Towards Inclusion was our response to the task force. It was published on 5th March of this year and reports the progress we have made in a number of areas such as the provision of services, transport, the environment and housing, participation in public life, local government, health and social services.
Towards Inclusionour responsealso made specific proposals to legislate to help tackle social exclusion and address inequality in employment and access to goods and services which many disabled people still face. Some of the major proposals have been highlighted today. They included the ending of the exemption of small firms from the DDA's employment provisions in 2004; bringing within the scope of the DDA more occupations such as police officers, fire fighters, prison officers and barristers in chambers; introducing a new duty on public bodies to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people; and extending the scope of the DDA's access provisions to functions carried out by public bodies
These proposals will bring within the scope of the DDA a further 600,000 disabled workers and around 7 million employees. They will require public bodies to look proactively at promoting equality of opportunity in their employment policies and services to the public. And they will ensure that a wider range of functions carried out by public bodies are subject to anti-discrimination legislation.
My noble friend pressed me on one specific point and was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. He asked our views about discrimination against people diagnosed with HIV who are, therefore, denied legal protection. My noble friend will know that people with symptomatic HIV are also covered by the DDA. He also raised the question of exemption from Part III for transport operatorsthat is, the right of access to goods, facilities, services and premises. I was shocked when a friend in a wheelchair, known to my noble friend and myself, was refused a meal on a train. He was told by the person involved that he was not obliged to serve him. I thought that that was quite shocking.
I repeat that we are committed to ending this exemption. We are consulting in the new year on how best this can be done. I hope that that will be good news for my noble friend and that we can bring forward our proposals as expeditiously as we can given the consultation in which we must clearly engage.
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