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As the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, said, since we started off this process it has taken a long time to get here. I have always had one ambition in regard to disability rightsthat is, to be able to put up my feet and say, "Well, that is that dealt with for at least the foreseeable future". That dream comes a little closer with the passing of the regulations and the tone of what the Minister said today. I hope that my crystal ball gazing will prove to be correct.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, as has been shown by the short debate, we are all extremely grateful to the Minister for her introduction of these incredibly complicated regulations. They are so complicated that it took me many hours with a cold towel to achieve even a modest appreciation of what they are getting at.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that the regulations are a masterpiece of the draftsman's art. As the noble Baroness said, they implement a part, and only a partthe subject of some of your Lordships' moans todayof the EU directive establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation. The Minister says that two more orders flowing from that directive are to come. She did not say when. It may be that she does not know, but, if she does, perhaps she will let the House know.
The regulations today are concerned solely with disabled people and are made, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said, under paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 to the European Communities Act 1972. Indeed, I do not believe that the Disability Discrimination Act permits the kind of wholesale revision encompassed by the regulations. A quick glance reveals that we have, in effect, a completely new Act. Part 1 remains the same but Part 2 is now to start with two new sections defining what is meant by "discrimination" and "harassments". Sections 4, 5 and 6 disappear and are replaced by new Sections 4 and 6. In passing, what on earth has happened to Section 5? I am sure it is buried in there somewhere and that I will come to it.
The new Section 4 extends the provisions of the Act to agencies providing contract workers, which is clearly an overdue reform. The CBI was consulted a few months ago and raised no objection to this, to the new coverage of policemen, fire fighters, partners, barristers and advocates, or to the reformationreformulation, perhaps I should sayof Sections 13 to 15 regarding trade and professional bodies, qualifications bodies and organisations carrying out practical work experience.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, said, this matter seems to be only partially covered in the regulationsfor example, when the trainee is the direct employee of the firm providing the trainingbut if agencies can be covered so far as concerns contract workers and part-time workers, surely educational institutes, colleges of further education and so on could also be covered.
The Minister rightly highlighted the fact that the regulations will also apply the Act to small businessesto those, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, pointed out, with fewer than 15 employeesfor the first time. This derogation, I believe, was invented because of affordability so far as small businesses are concerned. It was contained in Section 7 of the original Act, which is now swept away. Can the Minister tell us how she expects this to work in practice; about the employer's duty to make practical adjustments for disabled people; and at what cost?
I know that the Federation of Small Businesses has been lobbying the Treasury for tax credits to help small employers make the necessary adjustments for disabled employees and has received a dusty answer. I confess that I am not surprised. If the Government
Why was Section 9, which pertains to the validity of certain agreements, repealed? It is a provision which strengthens the Act, not weakens it. The Explanatory Memorandum states that it has been replacedbut where? I said this was complicated, but I have totally failed to find it. That exemplifies my criticism of the regulations.
In my examination of what the regulations do, I have reached only the middle. I shall not weary the House by describing the other changes and additions that have been made. But that is not all: the regulations also renumber and move around those parts of the Act that remain. How are firms and lawyerseven officialsnow to refer quickly to what they require? It is a nightmare of legislation by reference.
We desperately need a Keeling schedule for the whole Act, as it will be. It does not need to be statutory but I challenge the Minister to produce one. This is very important legislation. Reference has been made to the fact that the Secretary of State said earlier this yearas did the Minister todaythat the department would publish a draft disability Bill later this year. We are now half-way through the year and it has become a fairly long promise. Can the Minister tell the House what progress has been made? Will it include the Disability Discrimination Act as amended? If a Keeling schedule is not appropriate, that most certainly would be.
We have no objections to the regulations in principle. Disabled people are people first, disabled second. We who are fortunate to be able bodied, should, as far as humanly possible, bend over backwards to allow them, according to their abilities, to enjoy the same rights and privileges that we enjoy. They are, for example, twice as likely as the able bodied to be unemployed, which is not a satisfactory arrangement. That inevitably means helping them to enjoy the dignity of work and not putting obstacles in their way. With a little thought and care, this can be overcome. Alas, we still in live a society that requires the law to enforce what needs to be done. It is too tempting for employers to discriminate against disabled people. Their very disabilities are discriminatory enough. I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, for presenting the regulations to the House.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am delighted that the regulations have received such a warm welcome from all sides of the House. I am very grateful. Even with the reservations expressed, which I shall address, I am delighted that everyone has recognised the decency of the Government's response in incorporating into British law two years ahead of the statutory requirement such a major extension of disability rights. It gives me particular pleasure for
I shall seek to address some of the comments. I may need to reply in writing on technical points about why some matters are in the regulations and some are not. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, raised first qualification bodies. She was concerned that the DDA protection would not extend to bodies associated with GCSEs and A-levels. Our view is that examining bodies such as those for accountancy, law, the Bar Council, and accredited examination bodies that test competencies such as those for gas fitters under the Corgi principles are qualification bodies within the meaning of the regulations.
However, GCSEs and A-levels are not professional or trade qualifications within the meaning of the regulations. The regulations are work-related and employment focused. Examining bodies will not be covered by the qualification bodies provision when awarding those qualifications. Those qualifications represent a general standard of achievement in secondary education and do not themselves qualify for a particular trade or profession. The test already laid down by the court of appeal in case law under similar provisions in the Race Relations Act is whether the body is,
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Yes, my Lords, but I do not see how we could make a distinction between those people taking GSCE maths because it might subsequently be a qualification for a job and those for whom it would not be. It is clear that the regulations are focused on work-related and professional qualifications. I shall turn to work placements in a moment.
If the noble Baroness has any reason to believe that areas of GCSEs or A-levels systematically discriminate against disabled people, let us have a look at that; I shall draw it to the attention of my colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills. That may be a more practical way. The regulations are about employment criteria, which is why, within the meaning of the law as I understand it, GCSEs and A-levels would not be covered.
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