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This is the daily experience of 2 million blind and partially sighted people, and the problem of the unavailability of large print is a growing one as the population ages. It is my contention that, if we are to tackle this in a manner which shows that we mean business, we need to have this amendment in the Bill no less than the requirement to remove physical features which prevent access. I have raised this issue regularly, with cross-party support, in debates on the Health Bill, the Local Democracy Bill, the Local Transport Bill, the Apprenticeships Bill, and others. Ministers have invariably been sympathetic and recognised that the Equality Bill was an appropriate place to try to solve the problem once and for all with a generic solution. This amendment gives us that opportunity. I do not delude myself that it is a panacea, but it takes us a long way further than the guidance we have at the moment which is not working and it will give the enforcement authorities-the EHRC-something much more substantial to go on. I beg to move.

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: My Lords, I support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Low, as does the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins. Unfortunately

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she could not dig her way out of the snow. I was lucky; I had two PAs who decided that I should go to work whether I liked it or not.

The noble Lord is absolutely right about accessible information. It is as important to blind and deaf people as a ramp is to me, a wheelchair user. Since 1996 I have witnessed a monumental change in the environment in terms of access. Where once steps said "No entry" to disabled people, there are now, in most instances, ramps and automatic doors. I wish I could say the same for my blind friends who still have to ask, and at times beg, for information in a suitable, accessible format. In today's society, information is power. The only way to empower my blind and deaf colleagues so that they feel equally informed is to make sure that accessible information is on everybody's radar. This amendment could do exactly that.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, no one who has listened to the two speeches that we have just heard could be other than overwhelmingly in favour of this amendment and the related ones. I have heard many speeches in my 15 years in this House, but I have never heard one better put than that by the noble Lord, Lord Low, with the backing of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. If I were the Minister, how would I reply other than to accept the amendment? I would probably say, "It's not working in practice, but we'll get the Equality and Human Rights Commission to do this, that and the other in the future". I can only say that if that is the response, it will not be good enough. The noble Lord, Lord Low, is right to feel indignant after all the attempts that he has made in the past. I very much hope that, in our consensual approach to the Bill, it will not be necessary at any stage to divide on this matter. However, if it becomes necessary to divide in the future, I shall ask my party unequivocally to support the amendment and the related ones.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I, too, have listened to the very moving speeches. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I add my name to those who would support the amendment, including voting in favour of it if that were necessary.

Lord Elton: I am equally moved by the two admirably succinct and lucid speeches that we have heard and the way in which they demonstrated the effects of these disadvantages on the lives of those who suffer from them. I share the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for the object of the amendments, but I would think that the Committee needs to be reassured on a single point. The noble Lord, Lord Low, has made it clear that provisions already exist for the remedy of these situations. The Committee needs to know how adding the same obligation to this statute will remedy the failure of similar provisions in earlier statutes. Is not some stronger measure or different approach needed to relieve this intolerable situation?

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, we have heard a very persuasive case, made by the noble Lord, Lord Low, about the importance of, and the need for, this amendment, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of

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Surbiton. However, the points that have just been raised by my noble friend Lord Elton also need to be borne in mind.

As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Low, is asking for no change to be made to the scope or extent of the Bill; he has argued that the intention of the "fourth requirement" is merely to place in a more obvious position the need for A to provide more accessible information. Will the Minister confirm that the amendment would achieve what the noble Lord seeks and would go no further than the current law as it stands? If it does not, the argument would appear to rest on whether it would be more beneficial to state the need for accessible information in the Bill, which in turn would depend on whether the more visible position of the requirement would mean that more people would be likely to follow it.

The Bill must be about achieving real change. The duty to provide accessible information for disabled people has been in force from 1995 and guidance around the issue has been available since then. However, as was clear from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Low, there is still a considerable lack of compliance with it. Does the Minister think that if the requirement were placed more clearly in the Bill, it would increase compliance with the duty? Or perhaps she can inform the Committee whether there are deeper issues here which we need to look into in more detail. Are there other reasons for this duty not being complied with? If so, are there other ways in which the problem needs to be addressed?

I have considerable sympathy with the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Low. I would be interested to hear the Minister's response, particularly as to whether this is a cosmetic change to the Bill and the best way to ensure compliance with the DDA guidelines on accessible information to which the noble Lord referred.

Research from the RNIB submitted to the Conservative Party's working group on health information has shown that only 9 per cent of local authorities could even say whether they could provide accessible information, and that 72 per cent of patients have been given information by their GPs which they could not read. Lack of access to information can range from the annoying, such as not being able to read the day on which your rubbish will be collected, to the downright dangerous-for example, 81 per cent of people surveyed by the RNIB said that they did not get information about prescribed medicines in a format they could read.

In the age of computers where the touch of a button can provide information in a large format, it seems ridiculous that this should be such a hard provision to comply with. According to figures from the RNIB, there are currently 2 million people in the UK with sight loss. We have tabled Amendments 43, 44 and 45 to probe the Government's intentions regarding the possibility of the need for the asymmetric treatment of disabled people.

As the Bill stands, Clause 20 appears to concentrate more heavily on helping disabled people to "overcome" the disadvantage that may be put in their way. This

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can be seen from the examples in the Explanatory Notes. The first example is a utility company that knows that many of its customers have sight impairment-making it difficult to read invoices and other customer communications-thinking about how to make the correspondence more accessible. This may involve making some letters available in large print.

However, the Disability Charities Consortium is worried that this does not comply with the spirit of the Disability Discrimination Act, which was designed to ensure that disabled people have the same level of access as non-disabled people. Lord Justice Sedley in the case of Roads v Central Trains Ltdin 2004 stated that,

The Disability Charities Consortium is concerned that the Bill as it stands does not replicate this duty. It therefore considers it necessary to make clear the anticipatory nature of disability discrimination law. The emphasis should be on removing the barrier before it has even become a hindrance. Only where this is not reasonable should there be a requirement to provide an alternative means. There may therefore be a need to treat disabled people more favourably than those who are not disabled in order to take these factors into account and address these issues properly.

We have therefore tabled the amendments to question the Minister as to how far these concerns are addressed in the Bill. Do the provisions contain an anticipatory duty? The Explanatory Notes state that this clause and those following it simply replace similar provisions in the Disability Discrimination Act, but does the Minister consider that they retain the principle encapsulated in that Act? Can she give any reassurance to the Disability Charities Consortium on this point?

Lord Elton: My Lords, my noble friend reminds me of a practical point of some importance. I receive, as do all your Lordships, a steady stream of communications through my letterbox from local authorities. At the end of a great many of them is a little line which says, "If you need this in large print, then ring up the following number". The print is the same size as the rest of the document or smaller. That ought to be illegal.

The Lord Bishop of Chichester: It is a counsel of despair to say that some existing legislation is not working and, therefore, something should not be included in this Bill. If one takes the strict logic of the case, one could argue that Clause 20(4) is scarcely necessary. A physical obstacle is clearly excluded by the first subsection, but we draw specific attention to the need to remove physical obstacles. As the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, said, knowledge is power. There are very few things more important than the free exchange of and access to information in our world.

I am very conscious of a particular area of disability that has not been mentioned today: people with learning difficulties, who often have a much higher capacity for understanding simply given information than they are often given credit for. Much public information and

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many publications of public bodies are confusing, obtuse and arcane in a way that they do not need to be. Accepting the amendment and including in the Bill the addition which the noble Lord, Lord Low, is proposing would give a clear signal that we have an obligation to make information accessible to everybody regardless of disability.

7 pm

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people is unique to the provisions of current disability discrimination legislation and is the cornerstone of protection which the Bill provides for disabled people. It is important therefore that we ensure the new provisions in the Bill work and I welcome the opportunity to discuss this group of amendments.

Amendments 43 and 44 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, would remove the comparative from the first two requirements of the reasonable adjustment in Clause 20. The reasonable adjustment duty is triggered when the disabled person is at a substantial disadvantage,

It may also be worth reminding noble Lords that we have introduced a common threshold in this Bill for the duty in substantial disadvantage: the threshold that currently applies in the Disability Discrimination Act's employment provision. The service's trigger in that Act is impossible and unreasonably difficult. This change in the threshold is beneficial to disabled people as a substantial disadvantage test is an easier one to meet. The employment provisions in the DDA contain an equivalent comparator for the reasonable adjustment duty. We have no evidence that the use of the comparator has led to any difficulty in disabled people obtaining the reasonable adjustments they require.

Furthermore, we believe that removing the comparison with persons who are not disabled would confuse duty holders and therefore hinder, rather than help, disabled people who might require an adjustment. The courts may feel obliged to reintroduce a comparator in order to make the provision work effectively, and this would create a climate of uncertainty. On that basis, I respectfully request that the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment.

Amendment 45 deals with the duty's third requirement. It would alter the dynamics of the way the reasonable adjustment duty is designed to work in the Bill, and would increase the circumstances in which the service provider would be required to make a reasonable adjustment by way of providing an auxiliary aid or service by removing the threshold of substantial disadvantage and replacing it with a much more general concept of enabling and facilitating use of the service by the disabled person.

In framing disability discrimination legislation, we are always careful to try to balance the rights of the disabled persons and the duties we place on businesses and public bodies. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, referred to this. In that context, this amendment is unhelpful because it would remove the clarity that the substantial disadvantage threshold provides and might place a rather too onerous burden on the service provider.

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This amendment would also make this particular requirement inconsistent with the first and second requirements of the reasonable adjustment duty. In addition, it does not provide a link between the disability and enabling or facilitating, which should be the basis of any reasonable adjustment duty.

All the evidence we have is that the reasonable adjustment duty has greatly increased disabled persons' access to services, and we are widening its application by introducing the common threshold, as we have discussed, to create a simpler law. I suggest that these are reasonable and proportionate steps to take and that this amendment might go too far. I therefore again request that the noble Baroness withdraws this amendment.

On the group of 30 amendments submitted by the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, I will not go through all the numbers and read them into the record; they will be there. They have a single objective, so it is sensible for us to consider them together. That single objective is to introduce into the reasonable adjustment duty an explicit fourth requirement. This would require those bound by the duty to consider taking reasonable steps to avoid the substantial disadvantage that disabled people would face if the manner in which they are offered information would otherwise result in them being so disadvantaged. I listened to the remarks of the noble Lord with great interest. Indeed, I felt humbled by them and ashamed that our Government and other public bodies are still struggling to meet this requirement.

At Second Reading in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Low, said:

"What ramps are to wheelchair users, large print and other forms of accessible information are to blind and partially sighted people".-[Official Report, 15/12/09; col. 1469.]

He told us that despite large print being easy to produce now, even eye hospitals fail to provide it. None of us would doubt or challenge the necessity for ready access to information so that we can participate in the workplace, exercise informed choice when accessing services and play a full part in society. The noble Lord has championed this cause during the passage of other legislation, so I have found myself on my feet having to answer similar points and arguments in the past. I acknowledge that to be exemplars of good practice in this area, government and the public sector can and should do more-a great deal more. I am sure the noble Lord would say "Hear, hear" to that. It is important that we continue a dialogue with him about how we can best achieve this in your Lordships' House.

There is already a provision in the Bill that is designed to deliver the outcomes that the noble Lord's amendments would make explicit. The Disability Rights Commission's highly regarded code of practice, Rights of Access: Services to the Public, Public Authority Functions, Private Clubs and Premises, has a good number of examples of the types of auxiliary aids and services that might be appropriate by way of reasonable adjustments for people with sensory impairments, including visual impairments, to help them access information, auxiliary aids and services which we believe are captured by the third duty in this Bill.

The noble Lord spoke of his concerns at Second Reading and, if I correctly understood his remarks and those from others around the House, they relate

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to compliance with this duty. As I have indicated, our attention should be focused on compliance and good practice and, for example, on ensuring that the Equality and Human Rights Commission delivers on its statutory duties to raise awareness of the new legislation through codes of practice and non-statutory guidance. Anticipating the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, it has recently launched a consultation on the draft codes of practice. To use the full range of its enforcement powers, including inquiry powers to drive up compliance and ensure good practice, an inquiry by the EHRC into the provision of accessible information would be entirely relevant and a worthwhile initiative to take.

If I can turn to one point before I conclude-

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, having listened to the noble Baroness so far-

Baroness Thornton: If the noble Lord lets me finish, he may be pleased with what I have to say. Before I complete my remarks, I want to clarify a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Low, about the reasonable adjustments duty in the Bill not being as strong as the duty in the Disability Discrimination Act. We do not think this is true. We believe the Bill provides better protection for disabled people, and three elements of the duty and requirements do what is reasonable, as is required by the DDA.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, asked whether the duty for service providers is still anticipatory. As with the DDA currently, the duty of reasonable adjustment as it applies to those who provide services or public functions remains owed to disabled people at large.

In conclusion, I hope that what I have said goes some way to reassuring the noble Lord, Lord Low. The Government share his objective for the reasonable duty to deliver access to information to people with sensory impairments. However, we need to take these amendments away and look at them again. It would appear that the point is being made by every noble Lord around the House that the problem we have is one of implementation. We are not sure whether these amendments would improve that situation, but we will look at them again to see whether we can come up with something that could.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am grateful to the Minister for asking me to be patient because what she has just said is obviously very important.

The great Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once said: "Whenever I travel on the Underground, I always intend to buy a ticket, but the fact there is a ticket collector at the other end just clinches it". Of course, we no longer have ticket collectors at the other end. I have not heard in the Minister's reply any good reason why the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Low, which would add a fourth requirement, would do the slightest harm or impose an unreasonable duty. Since we all agree that the present situation is intolerable, I asked myself why one should not accept these words, or something like it, and I have not heard the answer. Perhaps the Minister is saying that she will think about it and come back; I see two Ministers nodding. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Low, cannot see that,

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but he should know that they are nodding. That gives me some reassurance, but I tend to be a William Temple person.

Baroness Thornton: I shall take this away and look at it with a view to returning to it.

Lord Low of Dalston: I am very grateful to Minister. I was initially a little dismayed that the Minister placed so much weight on greater efforts to achieve compliance, because it is my view, and my reason for moving the amendment, that we should do a bit more in the legislation to motivate that compliance and give the enforcement agency more to secure compliance. However, I too was glad that I waited until the end of the Minister's remarks, when she indicated that she would be happy to take the matter away and look further at the amendment.

I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken and for the degree of support that there has been for the amendment round the House. One or two points have been asked of me. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, and to some extent the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, asked what the point was of reinstating something that was not working. Before we go any further, we need to get something back in the Bill about this matter but if possible to improve on it and give it greater visibility. I thought that we had done this by putting it back in the language used by the drafters of the Bill for these requirements. It seemed to me that the correct way in which to do it was by adding another requirement. However, if the Minister feels that that does not do the job properly and would like to discuss other ways in which to achieve the objective, of course I would be extremely happy to engage in those discussions.

The right reverend Prelate mentioned the case of people with learning difficulties. I am very mindful of them, too. Making information accessible means not only putting it into Braille or large print but making it available in an Easyread format such as he was talking about. My objective would be to ensure that the needs of people with learning difficulties were encompassed just as much as blind or partially sighted people. People may feel that putting everything into an Easyread format would impose an intolerable burden but, as with all the applications of this amendment, it would only mean seeking on demand the rendering of information accessible; it would not have to be done automatically, for every piece of information that was produced.

I am a little sceptical about guidance, which is why I want to see something in the Bill. I think back to when we talked about the apprenticeships Bill. I was told that there were accessible information guidelines in the Cabinet Office but, unfortunately, nobody could find them. So noble Lords will understand why I entertain a measure of scepticism about the efficacy of guidance-certainly the efficacy of guidance that nobody can find.

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