Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Carter: Yes, but before I do I must refer to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, regarding the Bill being discussed in Grand Committee. As a former Chief Whip, it gives me great pleasure to say that it is all the fault of the usual channels. I have received the answer that I expected to get from the Minister. I am extremely glad we have it clearly on the record—which is what I wanted—that Clause 2 covers this area, which has caused some concern. That will be a great relief to people who were concerned about the matter. I thought that that was probably the case, but I wanted to be absolutely sure that there was no overlap and that the matter was quite clear. That is a good start. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 [Councillors and members of the Greater London Authority]:

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay moved Amendment No. 2:


"( ) a unitary authority;"

The noble Lord said: Before I move the amendment I should like to say from the Liberal Democrat Benches that we wish to see this Bill on the statute book as soon as possible. We said that; we mean it; and that is why I now propose to get on with moving Amendment No. 2.

We believe that Grand Committee is entirely appropriate for a Bill of this sort, and we think this is the right way to handle it.

This is a very simple, tidying up amendment. In the long list of local authorities mentioned in the Bill, which includes the Council of the Isles of Scilly among others, there is no explicit mention of unitary authorities, which obviously are now fairly widespread in this country. Although the Explanatory Notes state that all local authorities are covered, we believe that it would be simpler and clearer for the avoidance of doubt specifically to include unitary authorities in the list. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale: Having dealt with the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Carter—which in retrospect perhaps might be described as slightly the cart before the horse—we now move on to a series of amendments that deal with which directly elected bodies should be covered by the Disability Discrimination Act.
 
13 Jan 2005 : Column GC62
 

I put my name to this amendment as it would appear, and I hope only appear, to cover an omission in the list. However, I would be quite content to be told that although not expressed in the words of the amendment, the unitary authority is already covered, as it could be either a county council or a district council. If the unitary authorities are not covered—and I take the point that the Explanatory Notes say that they are because all local authorities are included—they most certainly should be.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The suspicions of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, are entirely correct. I am sympathetic to this amendment, because there could be a question asked as to whether there was some exclusion of a type of authority. I have checked this carefully, and I am assured that unitary authorities are a subset, if you like, of the existing list. Therefore, all authorities in English, Welsh and Scottish local government are fully included.

While the term "unitary authority" is often used, it is not a separate category of local authority. It simply describes an authority that is exercising in its area all the principal local government functions, such as housing, education and social services. The unitary authority could be either a county council, because of the coterminosity of its boundaries, or it could be a district council. If it is a district council, it has county council functions conferred by order, and the same is true if it is a county council. We are following here the descriptive practice of local government legislation which insists that unitary authorities can be either district councils or county councils. Therefore, no unit of local government is excluded from the purview of this legislation.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: I hear that classic Civil Service answer. It seems to me that unitary authorities are a subset of at least two other categories, so it would be simpler to make it "unitary authorities", but I am happy to accept that assurance and withdraw the amendment at this stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 3:


"(1A) Sections 15B and 15C apply to the following—
(a) Members of Parliament; and
(b) Members of the Scottish Parliament."

The noble Lord said: We now get to the largest group of amendments that we are likely to consider during this part of the Bill; Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 7, 9, 13, 21 and 22. This being Grand Committee, it is very unlikely that any amendments, except possibly Government ones, will be accepted. I put down this series of amendments in shorthand form. Clearly, Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 7 do not fit in very well with new Sections 15B and 15C, which would have to be reworked by better draftsmen than I. However, I am concerned here with the principle; namely that no publicly elected authority should be excluded from the Act. That is based on recommendation 44 of the Joint Committee's report, which can be found in paragraphs 257 to 262.
 
13 Jan 2005 : Column GC63
 

Amendments Nos. 9 and 22 aim to question which bodies will be considered public under this Bill and which Her Majesty's Government are going to exclude. I am well aware that the difference, according to the Government, between the bodies listed in the Bill and the two national bodies is that the latter make law, and that makes them distinct. However, there are two counter-arguments here, which have not been addressed. First, in a limited fashion local authorities do make law in the shape of bylaws, admittedly under national law. None the less, the laws that they make have the effect of controlling the electorate's behaviour, for example in car parking, blue badges, and in certain other respects.

Amendment No. 13 probes what acts it is intended that public authorities may conduct that if permitted will allow discrimination against disabled people, in the light of the statement in the Bill that new Section 21B(2) does not apply to an act of a prescribed description. The second is that governments, once elected, have office and post holders, and do control employees, even if they are not technically or legally employers. Surely, then, they should not be excluded from anti-discrimination legislation. We have had a little bit on that already, but it would be helpful to have a little more explanation.

It is often said that governments do not make legislation binding themselves in modern times. That may be so—but it was not always so. What about the Parliament Acts, especially the second one, under which this Government pass legislation that has failed to get agreement in both Houses? I am sorry, I should not have said "this Government", as in fact that involves governments of both parties. I correct myself.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Of all parties, not just both.

Lord Skelmersdale: Ah, but it depends what you believe the standing of the second Parliament Act is, when you make that remark.

What about the Executive not extending the period between elections beyond five years without the agreement of your Lordships' House?

New Clause 49 covers the activities of public authorities more widely than Clause 1 does, covering Ministers, local authorities, the police, NHS bodies and other government organisations, as the Joint Committee recognised. However, the Scottish Parliament itself is specifically excluded, as are persons,

The same words are to be found in Clause 2 and are replicated in both places by applying to Westminster as well. The Government, whether in the shape of the Scottish Executive or not, need to control both, so they should be included under the coverage of the amended Act.

Similarly, new Clause 21C refers to Acts of the Scottish Parliament rather than the Parliament itself. It refers also to,


 
13 Jan 2005 : Column GC64
 

whereas new Clause 49B refers to someone exercising functions in the Scottish Parliament,

The question in my mind is why are there differences between the two new sections. If the Minister would tell me the answer to that, demands for the exception of the Scottish parliamentary corporate body will become clearer. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page