Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, I will obviously withdraw the amendment at this stage. However, it is regrettable that we do not have an obligation on Ofcom to do something to encourage training—not to provide it or even to fund it but simply to encourage it. However, I must accept the Minister's assurance that we are simply not allowed to do so by Europe. However, I do not regard European directives as having come down from Mount Sinai by second post after Moses. This does not appear to be a particularly sensible directive and I hope that at some point in the future we will find time to change it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 48:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 49.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, drew our attention to the phrase "fair"—this is an odd word—treatment. We were not sure what it meant. I remember the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, saying that it was a known concept but I have never come across it previously. That is when the alarm bells start to ring. The phrase "equalisation of opportunities for" gives a much better idea of the normal practice with regard to disabilities. In this area of civil rights one invariably must

26 Jun 2003 : Column 398

change at least the way in which one behaves to give civil rights to someone. For example, the idea of reasonableness that is enshrined in the DDA means that one must make a reasonable adjustment. I do not know whether being fair involves making a reasonable adjustment; my point is that simple.

If we added the phrase "equalisation of opportunities", that would be in keeping with the approach. It is reasonable that one should, for example, provide ramps or change furniture in an office for someone in a wheelchair. I also refer to the concept that is accepted by the "Access to Work" scheme of providing a reader/writer for dyslexics. Those are examples of what is done to get people with disabilities into the workplace.

I do not know how far the concept of fairness addresses that. The situation is very worrying. What does being fair mean? To be fair to whom? Compared with whom? I do not know what is meant. There is no clarity.

Amendment No. 49 states:

    "between disabled persons and persons who are not disabled; and . . . between persons who have had disabilities and persons who are not disabled and have not had any disabilities".

Those lines were originally in the draft Bill. I should be less worried about the concept of fairness if those lines were in the Bill. It would not be as good but it would still be better.

The amendments are intended to clear up an area in which we are creating confusion. We do not seem to be in alignment with earlier legislation. I refer to the idea of reasonable adjustment. I suggest that the Government should agree to the amendments because the current wording in the Bill simply adds confusion. I beg to move.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I can be extremely brief. I understand from some signals that the Government will look extremely positively on this amendment. We are grateful to them if that is what they will do. All we have done—I say "we", but I should refer to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, because I am simply an interested bystander—in Amendment No. 49 is to put back in the Bill the words that were in the draft Bill. We never understood why they were removed in the main Bill. I understand that the Government now intend to put them back, which is a very good idea.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I rise to support Amendments Nos. 48 and 184, to which I have added my name. I confess that when my attention was first drawn to the wording of Clause 24 with regard to employment of disabled persons, I was somewhat taken aback. "Fair treatment of disabled persons" sounds condescending to me, not to mention the fact that it could be used to hide a multitude of sins. It would be virtually impossible to prove that an employer did not treat a disabled person "fairly", as it refers to a process—that is, "treating fairly"—rather than an outcome which can be easily referred to, to examine whether or not the employer satisfied the commitment to secure,

    "equalisation of opportunities for disabled persons",

26 Jun 2003 : Column 399

as our amendment suggests. I will stop there because I believe that the Minister is eager to get to his feet.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I hope that I will rise to everyone's expectations. Amendment No. 48 would require Ofcom to take all such steps as it considers appropriate for promoting the "equalisation of opportunities" for disabled persons in relation to employment with broadcasters. Similarly, Amendment No. 184 would require Ofcom to include conditions in the licences of broadcasters to whom Clause 330 applies, requiring them to promote the "equalisation of opportunities" in relation to employment with them. That would, I assume, be instead of the current requirements to promote the "fair treatment" of disabled persons, although the amendment could be read as requiring both fair treatment and equalisation of opportunities. That would clearly be unnecessary.

We are aware of the concern that the term "fair treatment" is not in line with the terminology used in other disability legislation. The use of the term mirrors the current obligations in the Broadcasting Act 1996 and is well understood in the context of that legislation. The obligations have served us well, and have stood the test of time. They have helped to contribute to an impressive range of measures to promote disability issues, such as the development of workshops on the portrayal of disabled people, guidance on being more inclusive of disabled people both in front of and behind the camera, and systems of regular reporting. It is for that reason that we are extending the obligations in the 1996 Act to cover all licensed broadcasters.

That said, I am aware that more recent disability legislation, such as the Disability Rights Commission Act 1999 prefers the term "equalisation of opportunities". I do not believe that the terminology makes any difference to the substantive requirements in the Bill, but I can see how it may be helpful for our legislation to be as consistent as possible with other legislation in the area. We will therefore bring forward an amendment at Third Reading to substitute our reference to "fair treatment" with the more up to date term, "equalisation of opportunities". I hope that in the light of that, the amendments will not be pressed.

The intention behind Amendment No. 49 seems to be to specify that in addition to the term "equalisation of opportunities", which is used in Clause 24 in relation to disabled persons, there should also be a reference to equality of opportunity between disabled persons and persons who are not disabled; and between persons who have had disabilities and persons who are not disabled and have not had any disabilities. I believe that that is unnecessary and, in fact, would be positively unhelpful. The amendment is inconsistent with the Disability Discrimination Act, which does not confer rights on non-disabled people.

During the debate on 15th May, it was rightly pointed out that the earlier draft of the Bill contained language similar to that proposed in this amendment. That was, of course, an error, which was discovered

26 Jun 2003 : Column 400

only after the draft Bill was published. Again, that shows the value of the extensive consultation that has taken place on the Bill.

I hope that my response has helped to clarify the position. We cannot accept the amendment, and I trust that it will not be pressed.

Lord Addington: My Lords, as they say, a brace is quite a good haul. I thank the noble Lord for his response. I believe that we shall probably want to check his comments on Amendment No. 49, but I assume that the noble Lord's lawyers are good ones.

With regard to Amendment No. 48, I believe that everyone is now more aware of what is going on. A point of confusion has been removed and, having had those assurances from the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 49 not moved.]


Lord Puttnam moved Amendment No. 50:

    After Clause 24, insert the following new clause—

(1) In pursuance of their duty specified in section 24(1), OFCOM may, in the circumstances specified in subsection (2), exercise the powers granted under this section.
(2) Those circumstances are that—
(a) OFCOM are not satisfied that adequate opportunities for the training and retraining of persons for employment and work in connection with the provision of television and radio services are being provided, and
(b) OFCOM are satisfied that the failings identified in accordance with paragraph (a) cannot be remedied by the exercise of their relevant powers under section 330.
(3) OFCOM may impose a training levy to be fixed by OFCOM in accordance with the provisions of this section.
(4) OFCOM shall not fix any training levy unless—
(a) at the time the levy is fixed there is in force a statement by OFCOM of the principles that OFCOM are proposing to apply in—
(i) fixing the levy; and
(ii) distributing the receipts of the levy; and
(b) the levy is fixed in accordance with those principles.
(5) Those principles must be such as appear to OFCOM to be likely to secure that—
(a) the levy is fixed in such a way as to ensure that levels of payment of the levy relate to the benefits to those paying the levy of the training and retraining to be provided; and
(b) the money received from the levy is expended in ways that relate to OFCOM's duty under section 24(1)."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, there is not a great deal to add to what I said in Committee. I live in hope that at Third Reading the Government will either come forward with their own adaptation or accept the amendment.

The situation is really quite simple. Here is an industry which is entirely skills-dependent. I believe that that is generally agreed. The nature of those skills changes very rapidly. It is a technology-based

26 Jun 2003 : Column 401

industry. The Government have a commitment in their manifesto to encourage industries to pursue aggressive training policies and broaden their scope where possible, and the industry has done exactly that. It has an all-industry body and all-industry agreement on training. The purpose of the amendment is merely to empower Ofcom, where necessary, with backstop powers to pursue non-payment.

It is an industry where the majority pay, pay well and pay willingly but, unfortunately, where a number of backsliders—some significant and some minor—will avoid and evade the commitment which the industry itself has made. It seems entirely appropriate that Ofcom should have powers to pursue non-payers in whichever way the Government or Ofcom consider appropriate. The present situation is too slipshod and the burden falls too heavily on those who have offered and shown preparedness to pay for training. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page