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Disability Discrimination

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

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Moved, That it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider and report on the draft Disability Discrimination Bill presented to both Houses on 3rd December (Cm 6058), and that the committee should report on the draft Bill by the end of April 2004.—(Baroness Amos.)

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I believe that it would be helpful to your Lordships and to those concerned with disability issues outside Parliament if the noble Baroness the Leader of the House could explain why it is expedient to set up this joint committee. Naturally, I had given her notice that I intended to raise the matter this afternoon.

The usual channels recognise that pre-legislative scrutiny may be helpful, but the selection of this Bill for that procedure seems to be rather odd. As I pointed out in the debate on the Loyal Address, such a proposal for a Bill of this kind has been government policy for a very long time. However, it has been discussed and consultation has taken place for about six years. So far as I can establish, there are no major matters of disagreement—certainly none which could not be dealt with by the normal committee procedure.

As I am sure the noble Baroness will be aware, among outside groups which are concerned with these issues there has been considerable disappointment that the Government have come forward with a draft rather than a substantive Bill. Are the Government prepared to consider whether it is appropriate for it to be dealt with in the way that the Government have proposed or, at any rate, can the noble Baroness give an assurance that, if we go ahead with the committee, at least a substantive Bill will be introduced in this Session? The matter has been delayed for a very long time and further procrastination seems to be unnecessary.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. He said that a great deal of concern had been expressed about the fact that the Bill would go through pre-legislative scrutiny. My understanding is that when my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announced in January that we would publish a draft Disability Discrimination Bill, that announcement was widely welcomed. Those doing so included the chair of the Disability Rights Commission. I am not entirely sure what has happened between January and now to change the minds of those who welcomed such a move at that time.

The reason that we have gone down this route is that we want good scrutiny of the Bill to take place. Before a substantive Bill is brought before Parliament, we want to iron out any concerns between the different stakeholders and between the two Houses. I am very pleased that it will be a Joint Committee of both Houses.

With regard to my giving a commitment on a substantive Bill being introduced this Session, the noble Lord will be aware that I am unable to do so. We made a commitment to pre-legislative scrutiny this

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Session, but I cannot make any commitments in relation to future Sessions because I cannot anticipate the Queen's Speech.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I am most grateful for the response of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. However, following the announcement in the Queen's Speech that it would be a draft Bill, certainly the strong reaction among a number of the bodies concerned with these issues was one of disappointment that there would not be a substantive Bill. Following six years of consultation in which, I understand, there was general consensus on these matters, it is not clear exactly what we shall gain by further delay and pre-legislative scrutiny. There is great concern that the passage of the legislation may not be completed before the end of the Parliament, despite the Government's commitment to it. Therefore, as the deadline of April next year is not unreasonable, I ask the noble Baroness seriously to consider whether there will be time to deal with the Bill in this Session. Will she at least say that she will reconsider the matter?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I cannot give such an undertaking. The Government remain committed to this legislation and that is why we brought it forward. We remain committed to dealing with all stages of the legislation when it is introduced in substantive form. We are pleased that it has been brought forward for pre-legislative scrutiny precisely because we want to ensure that we get it right.

On Question, Motion agreed to; and a message was ordered to be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.

Procedure of the House: Select Committee Report

3.25 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I beg to move the third Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I should say a word or two of clarification, particularly with regard to the proposals for Thursday sittings. The Procedure Committee sent a short questionnaire to all Members of the House to determine the preferred pattern for Thursday sittings. The clear majority of those who returned the form wished the House to sit at 11 a.m., with Starred Questions at the start, and the House to rise at about 7 p.m. Accordingly, the committee makes that recommendation.

The committee made a further tentative recommendation that, when the main business of the day is the Committee or later stages of a Bill, the House should break for one hour at 1.30 p.m. in order to give those involved in the Bill a break. Other business, such as an Unstarred Question, would be taken in the lunch break. No break would be taken where the main business was a Second Reading, a debate or a series of different items. As at present, it is not the intention that the House should simply adjourn during pleasure without business of any kind.

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The committee was divided on that issue. Therefore, the report was written with the option of omitting three paragraphs so that the House itself could decide. If the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is agreed to, the House will normally consider the main business of the day from 11.30 a.m. until about 5.30 p.m., when an Unstarred Question or other business could follow. If the amendment is disagreed to, the House will break for an Unstarred Question or other business at 1.30 p.m., but only if the main business is the Committee or later stages of a Bill. That will mean that the main business of the day will conclude at about 6.30 or 7 p.m.

The report also makes proposals regarding the rotation rule and written ministerial Statements. I hope that those items are self-explanatory. However, if any noble Lord so wishes, I am happy to provide further explanations.

Moved, That the First Report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 6).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:


    1. THURSDAY SITTINGS


    In our Fourth Report of last session we recorded that we were circulating a short questionnaire to all members of the House, to be returned by Friday 10 October, seeking views on the timing of Thursday sittings.


    By the closing date we had received 368 responses, expressing views as follows:


    Option 1 (Thursday sittings to continue as at present): 63 (17.1 per cent)
    Option 2 (House sits at 3.00 p.m., rises by about 10.00 p.m.): 100 (27.2 per cent)
    Option 3 (House sits at 11.00 a.m. with Starred Questions at the start, rises by about 7.00 p.m.): 200 (54.3 per cent)
    Other: 5 (1.4 per cent)


    In view of the clear majority for option 3, we accordingly recommend that, from the start of 2004, the House should sit from 11.00 a.m. to about 7.00 p.m. on Thursdays. Starred Questions should be taken at the beginning of business.


    We recognise that, when the main business is a committee or later stage of a bill, it may be unreasonable to expect those involved to continue all day without a break. One suggestion made to the Committee was that the business concerned should end at 5.30 p.m., and be followed by an Unstarred Question or other business until 7.00 p.m. Other suggestions were that there should be a one-hour break for other business at 4.30 p.m., or that there should be a break of 1½ hours from 1.30 to 3.00 p.m.


    Our recommendation, however, is that where business is of this nature there should be a lunch break of about one hour for other business from about 1.30 p.m. We recommend that, as in relation to dinner breaks, it should be possible to take an Unstarred Question, limited to one hour, during this break. No break would be taken when the main business was a Second Reading, a general debate, or a number of short items of business.


    Note: If the House wishes there to be no lunch break on Thursdays then an amendment to the motion to approve this Report to leave out this paragraph and the two preceding paragraphs would produce that result.


    The proposed change would require judicial sittings to be moved from their usual time of 2.00 p.m. on a Thursday. The Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary has indicated that he sees no difficulty in this.

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    We recognise that taking Starred Questions at 11.00 a.m. on Thursdays could cause difficulties for those asking and answering topical questions. Accordingly we recommend that the topical question now taken on Thursday should be moved to Monday, with the ballot drawn at 2.00 p.m. the previous Thursday.


    2. THE ROTATION RULE


    The Committee recommends that the Chairmen of the Constitution and Economic Affairs Committees should be exempt from the application of the rotation rule for up to three sessions. This would bring these committees into line with the Science and Technology Committee and the sub-committees of the European Union Committee.


    3. WRITTEN MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS


    The Committee recommends that the House should adopt, from the start of 2004, the practice of the House of Commons, introduced at the start of the last session, permitting the publication in the Official Report of Written Ministerial Statements. These would replace "planted" questions for written answer, removing the need for a Lord to be asked to table a question. They would be printed separately from written answers in the Official Report, thus eliminating any possible confusion between "planted" and other written answers.


    In the Commons notice has to be given on the Order Paper of such Statements. We see no need for such a provision in this House.


    We propose that Written Ministerial Statements should be placed in the Library as soon as they are received, so that they are available to Members before they appear in the Official Report.


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