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Baroness Flather: I too added my name to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Swinfen. I am very grateful to him for dealing with all the details of the clause. It is very helpful that I do not have to do so. I wish to make some broad-brush remarks because I believe that I am in a unique position to make them. I am a woman and from an ethnic minority. I am a primary carer for a very disabled husband. Therefore, I can tell Members of the Committee here and now that I have personal experience of all three areas of concern. I am very disappointed that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy believes that there is no connection between the two commissions and what we are now talking about.

We are not talking about the commissions or the structure but how to do away with discrimination. That is the basic, underlying reason for our talking about these issues. Social legislation never comes about ahead of need. We all know that, lawyers only too well. It comes long after the need has been established. The need for something to be done for people with

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disabilities is well and truly established. We are into our third race relations Act. The first had very limited powers and did not work. The second separated the promotional role from the legal role, which also did not work. Why are we going down the same route and not learning from the experience of the other commissions?

As far as the Equal Opportunities Commission is concerned, I believe that people have benefited greatly from Article 119 of the Treaty of Rome and the European Court of Justice. So it is always the threat, if not the fact, of legal action which makes people think about issues. The only area where there has been a quota is that of disability. What has it meant? It has meant that nobody has bothered about anything. It has been the most negative feature of all the different administrative measures that could have been put forward.

Now that we are considering this matter we should be looking at what works and not saying, "Let us do this now and then, if it does not work, we will tinker with it". Why not look at everything and see what works best? Let us look at examples from other countries. Let us look at examples from the United States where such provisions work. It is always the threat of having to do something, otherwise one gets into some kind of trouble. The most vulnerable group, which we are talking about today, is the least likely to be able to put its own case forward as substantially as one would like.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: We are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, for moving Amendment No. 101 so clearly. I wish to speak to the proposed group of amendments with the exception of Amendment No. 106 which, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, will be moved separately at our request.

The Bill is a major advance for disabled people, in theory. So much of it is good. The Government could end this Session and we could leave your Lordships' House knowing that we had passed a landmark Bill for disabled people—remedying wrongs, affording rights and integrating disabled people as never before into a full life in our society. That would be a good thing for us to have done this Session.

It will be done in theory but not in practice because the wrongs remedied will too often continue and the rights afforded will too often not be enjoyed. Why? Because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, so eloquently told us, the Bill provides no proper means of enforcement. It is a paper Bill which will raise many hopes subsequently to be dashed. The gap between the promises of the Bill and the reality that it will achieve, I fear, is going to be very wide. A Bill which is not enforceable is not enforced whether it is factory and mines legislation or health and safety legislation. We know that to be true.

No one expects customers in a restaurant to sue the owner for a dirty kitchen because we expect the environmental health officer to do that. No one expects a shopper in a supermarket who has an underweight piece of cheese to take on the supermarket. We expect the trading officer to do that for us. No one here who is involved in an instance of dangerous driving expects

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personally to prosecute another driver. We expect the police to do that for us. If local residents fear that a chemical factory is discharging into a river we expect the environmental health officer to take up the issue. In other words, we expect in all areas of our life to have an enforcement agency ensuring that the intentions of the Act are enforced.

That is our experience in every walk of life except, apparently, when we are dealing with disabled people and their rights and remedies for their wrongs. Disabled people are often poor, isolated and in poor health. They will have to fight their claims through the courts and tribunals themselves. If they cannot do that or do not do so, their rights will remain paper rights in a paper Bill. We fear that that is what the Government's Bill will leave us with. Why?

When one looks at the Government's proposals in the Bill, there is a set at the top and another at the bottom. At the top the Government are proposing to add a second advisory council to an existing one—in other words, one for goods and services in addition to the one which already exists for employment, even though most of us will never have heard of it. Therefore, we shall have two advisory bodies reporting to two different Secretaries of State, backed by two different Civil Service departments, issuing two different sets of guidance. The result which employers fear is contradiction, incoherence and lack of clarity.

The Bill is split down the middle at the top. For example, let us consider an hotel. If the owner is dealing with issues of physical access for employees, he will come under the Department of Employment and that advisory body. But if that same hotel is dealing with means of access for disabled customers, it will come under the National Disability Council and a different Secretary of State with different guidance and requirements as to what makes for physical access. That cannot be sensible.

That is at the top of a split Bill. At the bottom it is also split. Disabled people will have to pursue their employment rights through a tribunal and the rights to goods and services through the courts. If they struggle through the system we may find a dozen different cases, all simultaneously contesting the one point—say, controlled epilepsy. There may be a dozen different judgments. As the Law Society said, its prime concern is the absence of any body to co-ordinate cases which reach industrial tribunals and the courts. It fears that there will be contradictory signals coming from different cases as they go through the system. Again, that is a recipe for confusion, contradiction and incoherence. To add to the list we not only have split advisory councils at the top and split roots at the bottom, with no legal aid or financial support for people to contest their cases, but no feedback between the two. We fear that, as things stand, the result will be a costly and confusing shambles.

As employers' organisations have said, without the National Disability Council, with powers such as those proposed in Amendment No. 101, we shall have law by litigation. No one will know where they stand, what to do, where to turn or what is needed. The Government's own red book on the consultation exercise showed that over three-quarters of those who responded wanted a

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body with powers such as those outlined in Amendment No. 101. None of us minds what the body is called, but we need a central authoritative body with powers to give advice, information and guidance. It needs powers to monitor legislation and to investigate, conciliate and, if necessary, to prosecute complaints. It needs powers to carry out research and to bring test cases to clarify the law. It needs the power to take up third-party complaints. We want a strong friend.

On 27th March in the other place, the Minister said that he would prefer one body for the UK rather than separate bodies for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. He said:

    "There are considerable benefits in one organisation taking a consistent approach in advising on the elimination of discrimination—for example, in ensuring that the best and most effective practice can be shared".—[Official Report, Commons, 27/3/95; col. 789.]

Quite so. If Mr. Hague, the Minister in the other place, argued for one body for territorial reasons, do not his arguments apply for one body for policy reasons? What are the Government afraid of?

We know what employers want. They have told us. The Employers Forum on Disability was set up in 1986 as a self-help group for major companies which wanted to share best practice on recruiting disabled staff. It has 134 members and a list of them reads like the FT share index. Apart from the local authorities, building societies and banks, its members include Boots, BP, British Airways, BT, Coca-Cola, Esso, Grand Metropolitan, Guinness, IBM, ICI, Sainsbury, Kingfisher, Marks & Spencer, McDonald's, Mobil Oil, Reuters, Sears, Shell, Smithkline Beecham, Tate & Lyle, Taylor Woodrow, Texaco, Unilever and Whitbread. They all want to have a statutory commission. Perhaps I should add that that organisation's members also include the Metropolitan Police, the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Inland Revenue and the Minister's own Benefits Agency—

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am listening with interest to the noble Baroness, but I do not think that she can assume that because those organisations subscribe to that body they necessarily subscribe to the views that she has quoted.

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