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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We recognise that some areas of service provision are complex and may present particular difficulties when we try to include them in the right of access. One such area undoubtedly is insurance.

The business of the insurance industry is to calculate risks and set premiums to correspond with those risks. Insurers necessarily treat people differently on the basis of the risks that they present. They treat us differently when it comes to house insurance as regards where our houses are located and treat us differently when it comes to car insurance with regard to where we live, and therefore where the car has its overnight accommodation.

Nevertheless, we have been convinced that disabled people, when they seek insurance cover, sometimes face unfair discrimination, whether in the form of a loaded premium or a refusal to provide cover at all. We want to ensure that the treatment of disabled customers is based on a reasonable assessment of risk rather than on any prejudicial assumptions of the insurer.

Officials in my department have had discussions with a number of organisations involved in the industry. So too have representatives of groups of and for disabled people. I think it would be fair to say that all parties see the benefit of a flexible framework for eliminating unfair discrimination in insurance.

I shall spare the Committee a talk about professional actuaries. All I will say is that any actuary I know is extraordinarily clever and usually a mathematician, which by definition means that they are more than just extraordinarily clever. It is an extremely complex business. All actuaries approach it with a great deal of intellectual rigour. Members of the Committee should not play down the seriousness with which they deal with their decisions. After all, if they get them wrong and the insurer is no longer able to pay out on claims, then all those who insured would suffer. It is not a business without a major downside if actuaries are forced to make decisions which they would not make in the light of their intellectual judgments and based on the scientific and mathematical evidence they collect.

We believe that there is only one workable way to outlaw unfair and unjustifiable discrimination in the insurance industry; that is, through regulations after full consultation with the insurance industry and groups representing the interests of disabled people. We are also keen to learn from the experience of the operation of the Australian Disability Discrimination Act with regard to insurance before we ourselves regulate. We will of course ensure that guidance and codes of practice are available before the regulations come into effect so that insurers and consumers know where they stand.

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Regulations will also allow us to cover all eventualities. It may be that over time they need to be amended if there are practical problems in their implementation. It is in the interests of insurers and consumers for the Government to be able to make such changes. For that reason we took the decision to make regulations, which can be more easily adapted than primary legislation. The main disability groups indicated that they have no difficulty accepting regulations, yet the amendments before us this evening would restrict the flexibility of the regulation-making power.

I can assure my noble friend that we will take her anxieties and those expressed by other Members of the Committee into account when drafting the regulations. However, I do not believe that the approach of her amendment would be workable or sufficiently flexible to deal with this complex area. For that reason I cannot possibly accept it. I hope that, after hearing my explanation, my noble friend will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I thank all those who supported the amendment. It is an important matter. The fact that on the face of the Bill at the moment is the phrase, "for example, insurance services" drew my attention to this issue. The clause as it stands may lead one to think that insurance people will not be bound in any way by the Bill. It looks like a blanket exemption. I am therefore considerably reassured by what my noble friend said on that point; that is, that the regulations will look to see that the insurance industry does not act unreasonably. Perhaps I can discuss that with him between now and the next stage of the Bill.

I emphasise once more that my intention is not to ask the insurance companies to do something against the interests of their industry. As the noble Lord said, it treats people differently. I wrote that down. He said that it should treat people differently. I do not agree. I believe that it should treat everyone the same way on the basis of assessing each case on its merits in the full light of an honest declaration by the party of what adverse condition he or she is suffering from in terms of disability or ill health. We are aware of famous cases in America where, when word got around that HIV infection was spreading, large numbers of people immediately rushed to take out insurance. The insurance industry was badly caught. On the whole, however, if someone fails to declare a condition of which they are aware, that is fraud and invalidates the insurance. So the insurance industry is protected against fraud. I am saying that it should be able to look at each case on its actuarial merits and then assess what premium should relate to that. To that extent I believe that each person should be treated the same. He or she should be treated as a possible customer and offered insurance cover to suit his or her requirements.

This is a very important issue and one which we shall have to discuss further. The noble Lord said that he himself will be looking further into it. I shall have to persuade him of my view. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 75 not moved.]

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Baroness O'Cathain moved Amendment No. 76:

Page 11, line 24, at end insert:
("( ) Regulations may make provision as to the minimum level of adjustment required to freestanding and automated facilities which provide goods or services to comply with section 15.").

The noble Baroness said: This may seem a small point but it is easy to overlook the ever-increasing automation of services, as I mentioned at Second Reading, from cash machines to vending machines. This has led to a significant improvement in all levels of service.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that definitive regulations are drawn up under the legislation establishing clear standards for such facilities which will set the minimum that needs to be done for the life of the machine. There is a danger that if the commitment is too open-ended and further adjustments to machines can be demanded their economic viability will be drastically reduced. We need to ensure that in prescribing what businesses must do under the legislation these requirements are not counterproductive and that when regulations are drawn up consideration will be given to alternative ways of delivering the service. It would be a waste and indeed contrary to the spirit of the legislation if, as a result of a lack of clarity, there were fewer such facilities after its introduction than before. Instead we need to ensure that these facilities are as accessible as they reasonably can be and that they form part of a movement towards better services for all customers, including disabled people. I beg to move.

Lord Swinfen: This is a sensible amendment. The noble Baroness and the Committee will already know that British Telecom is putting automated telephones at a height that can be used by people in wheelchairs and some vending machines have already been fixed at that height. But it would be wrong to insist on adjustments to vending machines where a certain amount of pressure was not required to produce the goods they sell. If someone was to brush lightly past with their coat he could discharge vast amounts of chocolate or whatever it happened to be when no one had put in any money. As the noble Baroness said, one has to be very sensible. It is a matter of common sense. I am glad that it has been brought to the Committee's attention.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: This amendment draws attention to a number of problems. As I have explained, Clause 15 is intended to apply, with very few exceptions, to service providers right across the economy. In covering such a wide range of goods, facilities and services, we are bound to encounter a few sectors which present particular problems in implementation. This is one such area. We intend to deal with such difficult areas by means of regulation after full consultation with those having a particular interest or experience of that service provision. We already have adequate regulation-making powers within the Bill to deal with this kind of difficulty.

I do not want to be drawn down the route of adding regulation-making powers to deal with each area of service provision that we anticipate might not be straightforward. I am therefore unable to accept my noble

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friend's amendment. However, I recognise that the issue of automated service provision is one for careful consideration, not least because vending machines and other such facilities represent an important sector of service provision. Banking services provided through ATMs are a particularly good example. I cannot remember when I last went into a bank to get money; I think that many people are in the same position. However, the issue of accessibility to automated facilities is problematic, not least because it raises the question of the manufacture of the machines. As noble Lords will be aware, the Government do not believe that the Bill can or should cover the manufacture of goods.

I have listened to the comments of both my noble friends and can assure them and the Committee that we shall take the matters raised into account when seeking to regulate in this area. I firmly believe, however, that the regulation-making power in the Bill already allows us to make provision for that area and, as I have said, I think that it would be wrong to set about introducing powers to deal specifically with each potentially difficult type of service. With that reassurance, I hope that my noble friend will withdraw her amendment.

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