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Baroness Maddock: I wish to raise a slightly different issue. This section of the Bill, as I understand it, does not refer to parish councils. However, parish councils are able to have parish polls. Given that there has been some reform here, I merely wanted to ask the Minister whether there are any plans to change the way in which parish polls operate.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I have a horrible feeling that, with some regret, I am going to disappoint the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I want to explain as carefully as I can why that is.

The amendment proposed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Maddock, would amend Clause 117 by adding a further provision to ensure that local authorities have regard to guidance about making local polls accessible to disabled people. The clause creates an express provision for councils to hold advisory polls, to help them provide good community leadership and engage with their local communities. It gives councils broad flexibility in who is polled and how the poll is conducted.

Local authorities already undertake a wide range of initiatives designed to learn about the public's views on their work. We know that they attach great importance to involving people with disabilities fully in this process. We believe that good practice in this area is best served by allowing councils the freedom to innovate. We expect local authorities to provide access to facilities to enable any hard-to-reach group to participate in any such polls. However, we do not think that requiring them to have regard to guidance in this way is either necessary or desirable. We cannot see how that would add anything.

Good practice exists and is being disseminated. We do not believe that the imposition of a further layer of guidance will add anything extra. Most local authorities are now much more sensitive to this range of issues and to the need to make polls, including local polls, much more accessible to hard-to-reach groups. There may well have been problems historically, and we appreciate the spirit in which the amendment has been moved.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend. As I said, however, I feel very strongly about the issue. If the Electoral Commission came out with guidance, as I am sure it will, we would surely then expect local authorities to follow that guidance. My noble friend suggests that such further guidance is not necessary, but I suggest that it is.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I entirely support the noble Baroness's point and would find it difficult to

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argue against it. In any event we think that it might be possible to address part of the problem by applying the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act to this area. It would probably be helpful if we offered to consider how we might be able to do that. Rather than bringing in yet another piece of guidance, that is probably a more positive way forward, when there is already a wide variety of good practice in place. With that sympathetic tone and approach, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel happy to withdraw her amendment.

Earl Russell: The Minister is, I think, right that a number of local authorities are more sympathetic than they have to be. However, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee said on another amendment, the problem for a local authority is usually not sympathy but money. If the Government were prepared to put a sum of money at the disposal of a programme of conversion, that might make a good many of the difficulties disappear.

We have here an issue of equality before the law. There can be no more important equality before the law than equality in the opportunity to vote. One thinks, for example, of the literacy test in the deep south in the United States. I again quote the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. He quoted one black man who turned up to take the literacy test and was asked the meaning of the word hermeneutics. He said, "It means there is one black man isn't going to get the vote today". This reply means, I am afraid, more than one disabled person is not going to get the opportunity to vote today.

May I ask the Minister, before we come to the next stage of the Bill, to take the advice of his noble and learned friend the Attorney-General about any possible human rights implications behind this issue? The sooner governments are warned of such implications, the sooner they can take actions to avoid them.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Earl, as ever, dispenses very worthwhile advice. Obviously it is an important point. Undoubtedly the Electoral Commission is well versed in taking such advice. I have no reason to be defensive on the issue. This Government have done more than any previous government to make polling accessible in many different varieties and many different forms. I think that we have an extremely good track record on this.

We would like to consider the points made in our discussions today and see whether guidance really is required. I am not absolutely confident that it is. However, I think that we should ensure that some attention is paid to the working of the Disability Discrimination Act. We will have a look and see what else we think may be necessary. We appreciate the importance of the issue.

Baroness Hamwee: Obviously I welcome that proposal. The noble Lord said that guidance was not necessary or desirable. I would respond to that by saying, "By definition it is; otherwise I would not have

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been asked to propose the amendment". I would also hope that officials will talk to the Electoral Commission to see what it has in mind as regards local polls and whether it feels that any issues surrounding local polls need to be specifically addressed. The issue of accessible buildings, for example, has been touched on. In my own experience, prefabricated buildings—caravans—are often difficult to access, more so than a conventional building.

I go back to where I started, which was whether or not accessibility should be a condition of having a local poll or whether, as was proposed, the condition should have regard to guidance. I also had in mind that it would be awkward if the poll were invalidated because regard had not been had to the guidance, which could leave people in an awful tangle. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, probably has far more practical experience about these issues than the rest of the Committee put together. I am particularly grateful for her support. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 117 agreed to.

Clauses 118 and 119 agreed to.

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 221E:

    After Clause 119, insert the following new clause—

(1) No employee whose employer is a local authority or local authority company shall be required to work on both a Saturday and the immediately following Sunday if that person has the care and control of a school-age child.
(2) On whichever day the employee is not required to work under subsection (1), he shall not be required to work at any time during that day.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (1), any adult with whom a school-age child customarily lives as part of his or her family has the care and control of that school-age child and where more than one adult qualifies under this test each of them has the care and control.
(4) In this section—
"employee" and "employer"—
(a) in relation to England and Wales, and Scotland, have the same meaning as in the Employment Rights Act 1996 (c. 18), and
(b) in relation to Northern Ireland have the same meaning as in the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996;
"local authority" means a local authority in any part of the United Kingdom, including the Common Council of the City of London but excluding a parish or community council;
"local authority company" means a company through which is exercised a power conferred under section 95;
"school-age child" means a person who has attained the age of five but has not attained the age of eighteen."

The noble Lord said: In the past 50 years, it is a truism to say that there have been enormous changes in our society. There have been winners and there have been losers. Among the losers have been those parents who today have to struggle to reconcile the need to earn a living with the responsibilities of bringing up a family. Their children too are suffers. Much recent research shows the great importance to children of having time with their parents.

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It is not in the nation's best interests to deprive its children of the opportunity to spend time with their parents; not just an hour in the evening when parents get back tired from work, but at least, if at all possible, one whole day a week when the child is not in school.

Government departments in Whitehall are beginning to take very seriously their responsibilities for family-friendly employment practices. I hope the officials have had that experience; I certainly know of other officials in government departments who have. I believe that many local authorities are now taking their responsibilities seriously in this matter.

The purpose of the amendment is simply to jog the elbow of those who are dragging their feet. I beg to move.

Baroness Hanham: I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, which indeed was also moved in the other place. It was received with acerbity by the Minister. I think that was rather unfortunate. There are indeed now family-friendly policies and far more attention is being paid to this whole means of keeping parents and children together, particularly during their leisure time and in ensuring that there is an opportunity for them both to be together when they need to be.

I think it is probably true to say now that there are many organisations which will automatically take account of the amendment's aims, but there are others that will not. If this issue needs to start somewhere, perhaps it should start with local government with all its aids for families, for people with children and for child-friendly policies. So, I have a great deal of sympathy for the sentiments expressed by my noble friend.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: I hope that the Committee have sympathy with the thrust of the amendment. Those of us who have been Members of the House for some time will remember one of my famous victories in 1986 when the Shops Bill was before the House and we were successful in defeating it—the only defeat for the Conservative government—at Second Reading. Such events have a spin-off effect, and I am an unreconstructed reactionary as regards Sunday trading and the laying-down of the law in relation to it.

I shall not fight old battles—it is one that I and those who supported me eventually lost and we shall have to live with the consequences—but one of the consequences has been a relaxation of the laws on retailing hours, which has been welcomed by many people. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, there have been innocent victims of the change.

As the previous speaker said, good employment practice should recognise that where a person has a responsibility for children, and where that person's employment obligations include working on both Saturdays and Sundays, one would hope that there would be a recognition of the problem and a flexible solution to it, especially in local government.

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As the noble Baroness said, the amendment may not be necessary because, in general, there is good practice. But, as we have seen from the Sunday trading nexus, there have been modifications to the six-hour trading practice. We never dreamt that shops would open on Christmas Day, so why legislate for it? The fact that we have not legislated for it means that shops now open on Christmas Day. The same applies to local government employment practices.

The Keep Sunday Special Campaign—which will not be unknown to those who live in or around Cambridge because it operates from 3 Hooper Street—has sent me a list.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 4.32 to 4.42 p.m.]

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