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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The organisations which belong to the body pay for, run and own it. They are the stakeholders. The body claims to represent their views. I understand that it may be a little inconvenient for the Minister to have the Benefits Agency included, but I promise the Committee that those are the organisations which founded that body which speaks for their views
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps I may point out to the noble Baroness that democratic organisations which represent people may speak for the majority, but that does not necessarily mean that they speak for absolutely all of their members. I cite as an example her own Front Bench with regard to the European Union, and the position of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington.
Baroness O'Cathain: I thank the noble Baroness for allowing me to intervene. Like the noble Baroness and, I am sure, other Members of the Committee, I received a Peers' briefing from the forum this morning. It has looked at all the amendments that we are considering today and states:
It does not say anything about abandoning the National Disability Council. I feel strongly that statements are being made on behalf of companies which have not investigated or examined this position. Indeed, they have not given credence to it. I have found from all my investigations leading up to this debate that what the noble Baroness has been saying is absolutely not the case. I know that the forum would ideally like a body such as the CRE or the EOC, but what it has actually said is that the Bill provides the ability to strengthen the NDC and NACEPD. We should go ahead and do what the Bill is supposed to do, which is to enable disabled people to lead able-bodied lives as far as possible.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The noble Baroness appropriately read from the briefing from the Employers Forum on Disability, which asked Peers to support the amendments that she has tabled. I refer to Amendments Nos. 103, 106 and 107. However, the noble Baroness did not read the next paragraph which I am sure that the Committee will wish to hear. It states:
Baroness O'Cathain: I thank the noble Baroness, but the fact is that the forum wants to strengthen the NDC. That is the point to which I wish to speak. It is being said that we need a commission, but the Employers Forum on Disability is not saying that. It says that we need to strengthen the provisions. That is what we are all saying and we are asking the Minister whether the council can be strengthened.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I think that I made the point that we do not care what its name is; what matters are its functions. Speaking for its members the forum says that it wants to strengthen the investigatory and enforcement powers of the NDC. It supports Amendment No. 101, which we are currently discussing. That is what it has said. If the noble Baroness continues to read the briefing she will see that I am in no sense misrepresenting its views. I am happy for other noble Lords to have a copy of the briefing if they want, but I believe that it may already have been sent to other noble Lords. The Employers Forum on Disability has 134 members with a total of more than 2.6 million employees, representing some 12 per cent. of the working population. I have to sayalthough I leave it to others
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I thank the noble Baroness for giving way again. She is obviously keen to represent that particular body, but can she give the Committee an assurance that all of the companies that she quoted actually agree
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: What I have done is to list the bodies which set up that organisation and for which the organisation speaks. When I asked the director of that organisation whether she represented the views of those bodies, she said that that was her job. Perhaps your Lordships have heard to the contrary, but as the Bill went through the other House I did not receive any representations from any of the organisations in the forum dissociating themselves from the views of the forum. They would have been perfectly entitled to do that, but given that they did not, surely we can assume that the Employers Forum on Disability is doing what it says and speaking with the employers' voice
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I am sorry to have to ask the noble Baroness to give way, but one of the firms that she quoted was Texaco. In earlier debates I pointed out that Texaco insists on HIV testing, so I find the noble Baroness's point surprising. It throws into doubt my assessment of whether those people are all supporters of what she is saying.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The noble Baroness is absolutely right. I understand that a number of organisations, including British Airways, may do the same thing, but that is because of the effect of medication, for example, at altitude. It is not the case that they dissociate themselves from the disability council, which should have powers not only of advice and research but of investigation and enforcement. That is the purpose of Amendment No. 101. Unless any of your Lordships have heard to the contrary from companies which that body represents, and that they are dissociating themselves from that body, I am afraid that the evidence is with the Employers Forum on Disability. I give way to the Minister.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Baroness is trying to reverse the onus of proof and I am afraid that she cannot do that. The fact is that if she does not have a specific letter from those companies and organisations, she cannot pray them in aid. She can pray in aid the overarching body, but she cannot pray in aid individual companies. I assure the noble Baroness that some of them do not subscribe to the view that she attributes to them.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The evidence is that that body, set up by those organisations, expresses their views. That is the evidence that we have. Therefore, the assumption and presumption that reasonable people may make from that evidence is that those companies express the view that is put forward in their names. Only if your Lordships have evidence to the contrary of companies explicitly dissociating themselves from that view would the argument lie the other way. The burden of proof lies with the Minister.
I repeat that that body was set up by those companies and represents their views and that, together, those companies employ over 2.5 million people. The organisation is saying that the cost of a central authoritative body is outweighed by its advantages. It lists the advantages. It quotes also W. H. Smith and IBM as calling for such an organisation. And their reasons? They wish to see less litigation, with its attendant
The EFD goes on to say that it is precisely because there is no such national authoritative body that it had to be founded in 1986. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, a central disability organisation is what these major organisations want; it is what disabled people want. We are entitled to put to the Government a very simple question: will the Bill work without a commission such as is outlined in Amendment No. 101?
I am sure that every one of us in this place wants the Bill to work. I do not believe that there is any difference between us on that. We want it to work, but will it work without such a commission? The Government are willing the ends but not the means. The whole history of our social legislationthe noble Baroness, Lady Flather, was rightshows that if you set up policy objectives without the means to enforce themif you will the ends but not the meansand do not have an enforcement agency standing at the back, then the Bill will remain a paper Bill.
Baroness O'Cathain: I shall speak to the amendment standing in my name. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, is right: everyone wants the Bill to work. The problem is that some of the arguments that are going on at the moment detract from the overall basis of the Bill, which is that we want it to work.
In my Amendment No. 103 I am dealing with functions. I could not care less where the functions lie for this council. I am much more interested in whether they operate effectively. I believe that the NDC, as proposed, could and will work, depending upon the will for it to work. It is not a matter of confrontation. There must be a high level of commitment on all sides. It depends also on the ability to make it work. So it has to have the necessary authority. The body itself has to have an adequately strong membership. It has to have the functions and, of course, the resources.
I want to deal with just two of the functions: the research function and the education function, with which Amendment No. 103 deals. If the NDC was allowed to commission its own research it would exist as a body of authoritative research which people would be able to use if there were a dispute.
While doing some preparatory work on the Bill, I was greatly heartened to read on the Americans with Disabilities Act, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission document entitled Your Responsibilities as an Employer, from which I should like to quote:
If there are problems, people who feel that they are discriminated against should be able to call on the NDC, which, with the research that it has commissioned, should be able to point out the advice that such people should have. Points were raised by previous speakers which I should like to question. One related to the CABs saying that they would not give advice. A document I received from the CAB during the past three or four days said that of course it will give advice but it will not say that it is statutory advice. No one who goes to a CAB asking for advice on these issues will be turned away.
Secondly, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said that employers fear the legislation and have no faith that the organisation will work. I have been briefed by the CBI. It does not fear that the NDC will not work, provided that it is strengthened. There are two sets of employers with apparently two different views. A great many of the companies named by the noble Baroness are members of the CBI. In this, I suppose you have got to pay your money and take your choice, but I believe that employers are not fearful of this organisation working provided that it has enough functions.
I turn now to the point about the commission versus the NDC. I drew up a list of what I call debits and credits of the work undertaken by the CRE and the EOC and whether that work would be undertaken by the NDC. The monitoring of legislation is undertaken by both the EOC and the CRE. My amendment suggests that the NDC has a role in monitoring the legislation, bringing advice to the Government, and saying, "It's not working here, please can we amend it in such a way?" That would be undertaken anyway under the NDC.
Both the CRE and the EOC work towards ending discrimination. Certainly the NDC has as its remit to do that and to oversee the aims of the legislation. Parliament itself has a role to play in this, given the expertise and public concern about which we know. The EOC and the CRE exist to promote equality of opportunity. That is of course needed with the NDC, but the NDC will oversee and publish an annual report. It will draw attention to all those issues. It will undertake research and educational activity. That is a point upon which I think the NDC needs strengthening. We have been promised that the NDC will be able to commission research. So long as it is independent research in which people will have faith, I do not believe there will be any problem.
The NDC will produce an annual report, as do the two other commissions. It will issue draft codes of practice like those two commissions. NACEPD will also do that. On information and advice to filter weak claims, it requires a good infrastructure for that to happen. I believe that the secretariat needs strengthening. But we are already being told that ACAS can give advice in relation to disabled people in employment. We need to
The CRE and the EOC help reach settlements. The NDC should be able to do that in the terms of giving advice. Both the CRE and the EOC provide general information and give guidance and advice on key issues. Again that is something that the NDC will be capable of doing. They both conciliate. That again is something that the NDC could do.
There have been arguments about formal investigations. The NDC does not envisage having a formal investigation role. I do not believe that it is necessarily required. It is not an ideal tool. It can have many drawbacks. The desired effects can be achieved by other means; for example, by referring to a whole caucus of high-quality authoritative research. Similarly, I do not believe that it need necessarily serve anti-discrimination notices. Desired effects can be achieved by other means. What people, employers particularly, are looking for, is, as has been already stated, consistent advice.
If the NDC is sufficiently beefed up, has sufficient powers and respect and has the commitment, I cannot see that it will not fulfil all the functions that are now being fulfilled by the EOC and the CRE.
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