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Lord Higgins: My Lords, does that involve primary legislation?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am assured that it probably does. I should like to write to the noble Lord and to my noble friend. I have been struck by the degree to which quite significant improvements can be made by changes in regulation as opposed to legislation. I need to follow up in greater detail the interaction with that and the Article 13 directive. I am told that it will require primary legislation but I should like to see how much could still be done within our existing regulatory powers. If that would be helpful to the noble Lord, I should be happy to share that information with him.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, indeed, that would be most helpful and I should be most grateful if that could be done. If it requires primary legislation, will we still have a welfare Bill and could it be included in that?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I stand to be corrected but my understanding is that an Employment Bill has been introduced in the Commons today and some of our welfare reform proposals will be included in that. But I cannot at this stage help the noble Lord further. I do not think, given the timetable of consultation whereby we are committed to consulting in the New Year, that any

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legislative proposals could possibly be ready until next autumn. I am sure the noble Lord will agree that the timing he suggested is not appropriate.

As regards the Article 13 directive which the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, for reasons I may understand, pressed me on, we have signed up to the European Employment Directive made under Article 13 of the EC Treaty. This will ensure that all member states protect disabled people against discrimination in employment and training. In the UK we already have such legislation though it needs some further changes, as I have said.

It is a unique and commendable achievement that the Disability Rights Task Force was able to pre-empt a great many of the directive's provisions. This helped us during negotiations and ensured that those aspects of the UK's approach which work so well—such as reasonable adjustments—could be retained.

I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, and to my noble friend that the Government intend to consult on the requirements of the directive within the next three months. Of course, this debate is concerned about whether or nor there will be a disability Bill to implement the Government's proposals. Clearly, it would be advantageous—I do not challenge that for a moment—to take forward our disability commitments, both those arising from Towards inclusion—our response to the task force—and anything further from the Article 13 directive, in a disability Bill. This would allow us to deal with everything we want to do in a single piece of legislation.

However, your Lordships will absolutely understand all of the caveats I am now going to make as some of your Lordships have been in a similar position of being under pressure of legislative time. The legislative timetable is always heavy. It is particularly so at the moment. I say that in all sincerity given the number of anti-terrorism Bills that we shall now have to introduce into the legislative programme. That makes the legislative programme even heavier than is normally the case. We cannot guarantee a legislative slot either now or in the near future for those reasons. Noble Lords will appreciate that that is not within my gift, nor that of my honourable friend the Minister for Disabled People or even, I dare say, of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, even for measures to which we attach a high priority. The issue is not policy but parliamentary time. Your Lordships will understand that I cannot pre-empt that decision which will be taken considerably later, however sympathetic I may personally be to many of the proposals put forward today. However, noble Lords will be aware—

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, my noble friend has been helpful in the debate but is she now saying that disability will have a low priority, or is she saying that the Government will find other means of pursuing

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these issues? Her comments are a little disturbing. I acknowledge the point about terrorism. Obviously, the anti-terrorism Bills take priority.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am not saying either of those two things. I shall talk about the second matter in just a moment; that is, what can be achieved without legislation. I say simply that no one—apart possibly from the Prime Minister who is never "off message"—can predict or state at this stage what may be in the Queen's Speech. I am absolutely not saying what is or is not high priority, medium priority or low priority. I am absolutely not saying that disability is a low priority and, say, housing or health are high priority by comparison. What I am saying is that my noble friend will understand that security measures will always take a fast track. But that aside, I say nothing beyond the fact that no one can predict or make commitments about what will be in the legislative programme or the Queen's Speech any more than they can predict or guarantee what will be in the Budget. I say nothing more nor less. I hope that my noble friend will not seek to read anything beyond absolutely that in my comments today.

However, I may be able to take the House a little further forward as regards what we can do even in the mean time and even without a disability Bill. This is what we are considering. This Government are alert to the needs of disabled people and respect their desire to lead independent lives as equal members of society. It is a Government who support their right to be protected.

Under EC legislation we are able to introduce changes required by an instrument of the European Union by regulations. So, even if a Bill were not forthcoming—I am absolutely not saying that it will or will not be forthcoming—we could meet our commitment to legislate to end the small employer

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exemption in 2004. We could also ensure that the occupations and employment currently exempted from the scope of the DDA, such as the police and fire-fighters, are ended. I cannot, and will not, make such a commitment as regards the Armed Forces. The Government's position on that is that it is for the MoD to determine what is in the best interests of national security. Your Lordships will understand that there is a debate about that. One of our difficulties is that many of the jobs which were traditionally available to disabled members of the Armed Forces have now gone out to civilian staff, which limits the capacity to make reasonable adjustments for members of staff. However, I am sure that my noble friend Lord Ashley will understand that, as will the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. However, I believe that the ending of the exemptions for the police and fire-fighters—which, after all, involve considerable numbers of the civilian population—will be a welcome and rewarding change. As I say, we can achieve that change without primary legislation.

The DDA is significant legislation which provides significant protections but it is neither comprehensive at the moment nor fully enforceable. We have addressed, and continue to address, the Act's omissions. We are moving forward both domestically and in Europe to ensure that disabled people have in place the protection that has been afforded to other people in our society for the past 30 years. It is right that we press ahead with urgency but we also need to create lasting and effective legislation. And to make that legislation deliver we have to take people with us which is why the consultation process is an educative process as well as everything else. We shall do what is needed as soon as we can. I hope that with those assurances my noble friend will feel that the debate tonight has been worthwhile.

        House adjourned at thirteen minutes before seven o'clock.

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