|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Wyatt of Weeford: Before the noble Lord sits down, is he aware that when the Grand National fiasco took place, a brilliant man raced across the course twice and stopped the horses jumping the first fence, the horses having been egged on by the animal protesters? That gentleman was receiving a disability pension but it seemed to me that he was not suffering from a great deal of disability.
Lord Addington: After that discussion by the racing fraternity, perhaps we may return to the Bill. There has been a great deal of argument about who does and who does not support the amendment. I do not intend to go down that road because it makes absolutely no difference.
It provides also the ability to co-ordinate any legal action which is needed in the courts. Therefore, there will be direction, enforcement and education. Most of us agree that most types of discrimination are due to ignorance. If all those elements are combined, the Bill will be made very much better and more effective.
One historical analogy which may be used is in relation to legislation on factories. I believe that it was about 200 years ago that the law said that people who worked in factories must not be mistreated and one inspector was employed to ensure that that law was observed throughout the whole country. Unless there is an enforcement agency, the legislation will not work because people ignore what is not in front of them. If something is not relevant to them, they ignore it. Unless provision is made which gives people the drive and ability to make note of what should be done, it will have no effect at all.
Also, these amendments remove the confusion arising out of having two bodies. All matters are brought together. Unless that is done, the Bill will achieve only part of its objective. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, said that if we work together and co-ordinate matters, the legislation may work. That is true. But these amendments mean that that will happen and I do not believe that we should take the risk that it will not.
Lord Milverton: I support the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady O'Cathain. They seem to be far more sensible and practical. I have given the matter some thought but I cannot support the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Swinfen.
My wife pointed out to me recently an extremely striking letter in The Times, written by a disabled person. It was not, as some Members of the Committee may have thought, that that person was hoping that all the amendments put forward would be accepted. Strange as it may seem, that disabled person said that he had a disability and he accepted it. Unless we are careful, disabled people, whom we want to help, will feel that they are being patronised. It is no good being too heavy-handed. Something may be provided in legislation but, in the end, there must be a willingness and a sensitivity to bring that about.
I believe that we may be too heavy-handed and, therefore, we shall not help disabled people. Reliance must be placed on sensitivity and understanding to bring about reasonableness. Until that reasonableness comes from every single person from every single spectrum of outlook and creed, there will be endless, ineffective legislation.
As regards protesters, I shall not say what I think of the many protesters that there are in the world today. One wonders what they are doing, or trying to do, in life. I support my noble friend Lady O'Cathain, but I cannot support the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Swinfen. I am sure that the Minister will give a good reply. I support him and what this Disability Discrimination Bill seeks to achieve. I think it is good.
Baroness Lockwood: I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. I suppose that that will come as no surprise to the Minister and Members of the Committee as I have consistently argued during the passage of the Bill for a central, independent body to be charged with the responsibility of overseeing the operation of the new Act and to be given the necessary powers and resources to do so.
The amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, set out a whole range of functions for the proposed National Disability Council. The council could select which of those functions it would deploy at certain times so as to deal with the issues with which it will be faced. I support the amendments based on my experience when I was chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission. I know from that experience that there will be, both initially and from time to time when codes of practice or new statements are made, a whole range of inquiries coming to the council asking for advice and interpretation on what is meant.
Therefore, I believe that it is important to have a body which can build up such expertise and which is capable of seeing what the trends and main issues are so as to be able to give that help and advice. In order to do that, I hope that the council will have the ability to conduct research and to have independent research undertaken. It should have the ability to help individuals pursue cases, not in a confrontational way but in order to help it understand just how the Act is operating. In so doing, it would strengthen its own position in giving advice in the future.
I was chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission from 1975 to 1983. I must point out that the commission was not in a confrontational position, although it did take legal action. Most of its time was spent in helping, advising, guiding and providing information which helped to educate. I foresee the proposed National Disability Council doing much the same.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said that there was a difference between disability and sex and race discrimination. Yes, there is a difference; indeed, it is a very considerable difference. But there is a considerable difference between sex discrimination and race discrimination because they are separate issues. However, there is one overriding factor which is common to all three, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Flathernamely, the issue of discrimination. When the National Disability Council is established, I hope that it, along with its staff, will soon become expert in matters of disability and in the operation of other laws affecting disabled people, and that it will see discrimination in the light of that expertise.
I understand that the Minister may have some reservations about having a council with legal powers because of the costs involved in disability discrimination. However, I suggest to the noble Lordwe have debated the matter many times in this Chamberthat there is a cost attached to disability and that that cost will apply, whether or not the amendments are accepted.
I suggest to the Minister that the test for reasonableness is a very tough one in the context of the Bill. I hope therefore that he will not feel that the proposal for assisting the disabled would increase costscosts which are necessary and which, I suggest, would have to be spent in the long run. Despite the exchanges that have taken place, I hope that the Minister will take a more favourable attitude towards the amendments which I believe could strengthen and make more effective the legislation that he is seeking to get through.
Lord Gisborough: I support the amendment to bring in a central, one-stop shop to administer the workings of the Act which at present are split between two departments of state. Such a central authoritative body would help in mobilising the goodwill of employers, which is most important if the spirit of the Bill is to be adhered to rather than meeting with just bare compliance. It becomes much easier for employers to deliver the opportunities for disabled people if they can refer to consistent and one-stop advice. Such a body could monitor the working of the legislation; it would be able to give better information to disabled people; and it could try to sort out some of the problems that will inevitably develop.
The cost of such a central body would be offset and probably outweighed by savings in reduced litigation, better employment opportunities, reduced state benefit, a greater tax take from those disabled who became employed, reduced bureaucracy and greater employer goodwill. Finally, I hope that the Government will be able to give an assurance that at least as much will be spent on the implementation of the Bill's provisions in respect of the proposed National Disability Council as has been spent on the quota system which proved to be a failure.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Members of the Committee will be most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, for tabling the amendments and for the powerful, well-informed and eloquent manner in which he introduced them. Conscious as I am of time, perhaps I may make just a few remarks, drawing on my practical experience as one of the architects of the sex discrimination and race relations Acts and someone who, as an advocate, tried to make the legislation work.
I strongly support the amendments because I believe they will lead to wiser, more effective enforcement of the legislation and will ensure that the legislation is more user friendly. That seems to me extremely important. When I left the Bar in the mid-1970s to advise the then government on the sex discrimination and race relations legislation, it was clear that earlier attempts to legislatenamely, the attempts of 1965 to 1968had failed precisely because too much reliance was placed on individual enforcement and too little on
In the mid-seventies, with the support of all parties in both Houses, legislation was put in place to give effect to the principle of equal treatment without unfair discrimination. This Bill admirably extends that principle to another kind of unfair discrimination. However, the underlying problem applies to all kinds of discriminationhow can the ordinary individual, whether it be an employer, employee or anyone else, understand his or her rights? How, if necessary, can they be enforced? And what bodies can there be to filter out frivolous complaints, give proper advice and assistance in key test cases? It seems to me that those considerations apply every bit as much to this Bill as to the other body of law that we have in this country, including the Northern Irish legislation on religious and political discrimination.
What worries me about the Bill as it stands is that, as has been said, it is a much more complicated piece of legislation than any of our existing discrimination laws. It will lead to costly and protracted litigation, especially if there is no public body able to give advice and to help the courts and tribunals in their daily work. We have no legal aid in industrial tribunals. Disabled people on the whole are under-represented in trade unions, and if they are not employed they will not be members at all, and there will be no other body to take up cudgels on their behalf.
The Committee may think that that would be a bonanza for members of my profession or that public expenditure would be huge. I remind the Committee of the figures. In the case of the Equal Opportunities Commission for Great Britain, which deals with half of the population of the countrynamely, the female half, as well as the other halfthe total amount spent on providing legal assistance per year has never exceeded £600,000 and last year it was about £300,000. Those figures are much smaller than the cost of fighting a case all the way to the House of Lords on some point of law and then having to pay the costs of both sides. The figure for the Commission for Racial Equality is higher, but has never been higher than about £800,000.
It seems to me that it would be cost-effective if there were a body able to give modest assistance of the kind that those bodies now give and advise employers, employees and others. That would be a really cost-effective way of plugging the gap in the legal aid provision and trying to reduce frivolous, unnecessary and vexatious litigation. That is why I feel very strongly that, of the amendments tabled, those dealing particularly with advice and assistance deserve to be supported.
I am somewhat less enthusiastic about any open-ended research function because that could be expensive and not necessarily cost-effective. That is not to say that it is not important, but as a matter of priority I would focus on the points that I raised.
I very much hope that the amendments will be treated sympathetically by the Government. It is in their interests as well as everybody else's that courts and tribunals are not overwhelmed by unnecessary litigation, and also that the public at large receive proper advice.
This has been the most important debate that we have had during the Committee stage, and I shall detain the Committee for a very short time in order to put the matter into a somewhat different perspective from that which has so far been mentioned.
We all want to see the provisions of the Bill enforced. Indeed, we have passed Clause 8, which enables industrial tribunals to enforce the provisions of the Bill in relation to employment, and Clause 20, whereby the civil courts will enforce them in relation to access and so on. There will be appeals from either of those bodies.
The Government have it in mind that the National Disability Council shall advise them and have continuous oversight of the way the Bill is working, including the work done by tribunals and the courts. However, the Government have decided, wisely in my opinion, that the NDC should not interfere or be given additional functions enabling it to interfere with functions with respect to the investigation of any complaint which may be subject to proceedings under the Act. However, my noble friend Lord Swinfen wishes subsection (4) of Clause 23 to be left out. That could result in a serious overlap with jurisdiction in relation to the investigation of complaints. The National Disability Council will not be a judicial body. It will be a lay advisory body, as I understand it. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish may correct me if that is not right. It would create confusion if we were to accept subsection (2A) (a) of Amendment No. 101, which gives the council the power: