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Lord Filkin: Before moving closure, I should like to correct a figure that was given earlier. We signalled that 1,200 schools had been closed by local authorities—which I thought at the time was going it somewhat. In fact, we believe the figure is 176.

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.


 

 

Official Report of the Grand Committee on the

Disability Discrimination Bill [HL]

(First Day)

Thursday, 13 January 2005.

The Committee met at quarter past three of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Brougham and Vaux) in the Chair.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Brougham and Vaux): Before I put the Question that the Title be postponed, I remind your Lordships of two points of procedure. Noble Lords will speak standing, and the House has agreed that there will be no Divisions in the Grand Committee. Unless, therefore, an amendment is likely to be agreed to, it should be withdrawn.

If there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.

Title postponed.

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 1:

Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—


"PUBLIC REPRESENTATION
(1) Section 4C of the 1995 Act (office-holders: introductory) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 4C(3)(a) the words "and in respect of which they are entitled to remuneration" are omitted.
(3) In section 4C(3)(b) at end insert "or regional or local authority"."

The noble Lord said: The amendment would extend the protection of the legislation to public appointees who do not receive any remuneration for their work. It would also cover public appointments made by regional and local authorities such as school governors. At present, disabled people who serve on public bodies such as health authorities are protected against discrimination if they are appointed by Ministers and paid for their services. If they are not paid or the post-holder is appointed by a public body such as a local authority, they are not covered. It has been pointed out by the Disability Charities Consortium that unpaid service on public bodies can provide an important bridge for disabled people into paid employment, and that service on public bodies allows disabled people to become fully involved and valued in their communities.

It is worth pointing out that the record of public bodies in promoting disabled people's inclusion is poor. The Joint Committee had some figures from the department showing that there are 9.7 million disabled adults and 750,000 disabled children—more than 10 million people altogether—yet only 3 per cent of members of non-departmental public bodies are disabled people. Another part of the reason why disabled people are excluded from
 
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public life is the failure of too many public bodies to make reasonable adjustments to allow disabled people to participate by, for example, holding their meetings in locations with loop induction facilities and that are accessible for wheelchairs.

Whether or not a public appointee receives some remuneration should make no difference when it comes to them being protected by anti-discrimination legislation. Indeed, many disabled people who would be interested in public appointments are discouraged from accepting posts that are remunerated as it may adversely affect their benefits position. Similarly, why should a disabled person whose post is a ministerial appointment be protected against discrimination, while someone appointed by a local or regional authority receives no protection?

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amendment) Regulations 2003 extended protection to office holders where they are entitled to remuneration and where the,

The Joint Committee, which I had the honour to chair, recommended that the Government re-examine the subject—it was covered by Clause 15 in the draft Bill—and all existing anti-discrimination legislation, with the intention of ensuring that no statutory elected and appointed office and post holders were excluded from coverage. The Government did not accept that recommendation. They feel that the DDA offers protection at least as comprehensive as any other domestic anti-discrimination legislation, which I find hard to understand given the distinction between the remunerated and the unremunerated posts.

The committee also recommended that the relevant clause should be reviewed, and that the full Bill as introduced to Parliament protected disabled councillors from direct discrimination in appointments to posts of the kind described in the amendment. The Government said that they did not accept that legal oversight was necessary in relation to such appointments within a democratically elected body, which I thought a rather odd answer. There we are, however; that was the answer that we got. The point is straightforward. I beg to move.

Lord Addington: I support the noble Lord, Lord Carter, in this amendment, which deals with one of the loopholes that we have discovered. Although this Bill comes under the heading of "a good thing", it has loopholes. It is one of our jobs to close them and this amendment would be a step in that direction.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): I—

Lord Skelmersdale: If I may be allowed to, I would like to say a few general words and start this Grand Committee stage on behalf of the official Opposition in what I hope will be seen as a spirit of friendliness and co-operation, which I hope will continue through all stages of the Bill. I said previously that we all want to see the Bill on the statute book in both a reasonable time and in a reasonable state. However, having the
 
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Committee stage in Grand Committee does not help. Proceedings in Grand Committee always take longer, which is why I fought for a Committee of the whole House—clearly not very successfully. Any resultant delay is the fault of the Government Whips and not any Member of your Lordships' Committee.

The Minister has made a great start on her side as far as co-operation is concerned and I would like to congratulate both her and her officials on managing to get the promised quasi Keeling schedule to us before Christmas. Perhaps a reflection the word "quasi" is a little unfair. Non-statutory were the words that the Minister used on Second Reading. However, in my own defence, "quasi" is shorter.

As the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, as it stands now, office or post holders are covered by the Act as far as their role as employers of both direct employees and contract workers are concerned. Furthermore, local authority partnerships, barristers and advocates employed by local authorities arguably could be said to be contract workers, but could be directly paid employees. Curiously, those in charge of practical work experience courses are all covered. However, they are covered under Section 4C(3)(a) only if their employer, for want of a better word, is paid. Many office or post holders will not be paid as such. Like Members of this House, they will get only expenses that can hardly be described as remuneration. It seems to us on this side of the House that since both the remunerators and the remunerated are doing exactly the same job, they should be covered in exactly the same way. Therefore, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carter.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I—

Baroness Wilkins: I briefly add my support to the amendment. The lack of education and life opportunities mean that many disabled people lack the confidence to take part in public life. These unpaid public appointments are a vital bridge for many in gaining the confidence and experience to go further. I hope that the Minister will give kind consideration to this amendment.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I apologise for twice apparently inhibiting Members of the Grand Committee from speaking. However, I would like to welcome and thank the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for his comments on behalf of the Official Opposition. As he recognises, the Bill has had pre-legislative scrutiny in a committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Carter.

Several Members of the Grand Committee were also on that committee and I appreciate that, as a result, we have not needed some of the probing amendments that we might otherwise have needed because that job has already been done in pre-legislative scrutiny. I hope that that should allow us a more expeditious handling of this Bill and to focus on policy issues rather than elements of the drafting. As a consequence, as the noble Lord rightly said, that should allow us to do what disabled people are expecting—to get this Bill securely on the legislative book before any judgment may be made at the end of this parliamentary Session.
 
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The apparent discrepancy raised by my noble friend about appointments by Ministers but not appointments by local and regional authorities is more apparent than real because one is done in the first clause and the other in the second clause. Therefore, I do not think that there is an issue, but let me spell the matter out in greater detail.

The purpose of this clause, as its heading suggests, is to ensure protection against discrimination for disabled people involved in public representation. That is the very thing the DDA already does and the Bill would complete. Once our package of reforms is in place, the DDA will protect office holders as comprehensively as any other equality legislation.

The 2003 regulations covered many offices and posts for the first time—as Committee Members will know because most of us were present at those discussions—and gave greater protection to offices and posts that had previously been covered. For example, police officers gained protection for the first time and people appointed by Ministers gained much wider protection than had previously existed under the DDA. This clause covers councillors, fulfilling a promise made by the Government towards inclusion. Clause 2 covers the functions of public bodies and is therefore intended to cover appointments—for example, school governors—made by such a body in that clause. Therefore, many of the concerns that my noble friend had are not well founded because it is simply a case of a disjunction of the purpose of the two clauses.

Let me expand a little. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amendment) Regulations 2003 transposed the European Framework Directive on equal treatment in employment. The DDA now protects those who are appointed to an office to discharge functions personally, are remunerated and who perform their duties under the direction of another, and also those who are appointed by government or on advice of Ministers. They are protected not only in relation to the appointment, but also, for example, in the tasks they undertake and in how their appointment is ended. Previously only ministerial and government appointments were protected and then only in relation to the actual appointment. This means, for example, that the chair and commissioners of the DRC are covered in this way or lay magistrates because they are appointed by the Lord Chancellor. People holding the office of police constable are protected separately by the DDA, but also as a result of the 2003 regulations.

This Bill brings forward the remainder of our reforms that affect office holders. The provisions contained within the Bill will further extend cover to local councillors (Clause 1).

In addition, Clause 2 will ensure that in broad terms all the activities of the public sector are covered by the DDA; for example, people appointed by local authorities—as my noble friend asked—and regional authorities which are not covered under Clause 1. This would mean that it would be unlawful for a public authority to treat a disabled person less favourably, or fail to make a reasonable adjustment without justification when carrying out its functions. As I say, school governors would be a good example of that.
 
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Our approach therefore means that the DDA will work in a similar way to the Race Relations Act. It also applies, for example, to the appointment of members of the management boards of the new NHS foundation trusts as they are selected by a board of governors. Present NHS trusts appointed by the Minister are already covered. In future the equivalent in the foundation trusts will be covered but under Clause 2, not Clause 1. Essentially, my noble friend is perfectly honourably criticising Clause 1 for not being Clause 2. I hope that with that explanation he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.


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