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Baroness Masham of Ilton: Would it not be possible to incorporate the employers and everybody else? That is what is wanted.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am not too sure in what way. The NDC will include people drawn from the employers, as it will those drawn from the disabled and others who are interested. They will be involved in the NDC.

A commission would also run the risk of creating a backlash. The provisions in this Bill go much further than the sex and race legislation. The sex and race legislation requires essentially that the same service is extended to people without regard to their sex or racial origin. The provisions in this Bill require a service provider to make additional arrangements, if that is necessary, to ensure that a disabled person can access

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the service. This might take the form of providing extra services, a sign language interpreter for someone who is deaf, or altering the building from which the service operates. What we are requiring in this Bill is that service providers not only stop discriminating in the sense of the sex and race legislation, but that they change the way in which they offer services to overcome the problems that disabled people encounter.

Similar issues arise for employers, who will be required to consider providing extra supervision, changing the premises or allocating some of the disabled person's duties to another person. It is about the employer making different or additional provision to enable a disabled person to carry out the job; and in some instances it might require other employees to change the way they work or to take on extra duties. These are substantial differences that set the boundaries for eliminating discrimination against disabled people much wider than those for sex and race. They need be reflected in the arrangements that we make for ensuring that the policy intention of this Bill is carried through without encountering a backlash.

My noble friend Lady Flather asked me to look at the United States, saying that a commission works there. I fear that my noble—

Lord Ashley of Stoke: I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. Will he kindly explain the concept of backlash, given the fact that a commission as proposed by the amendment would pursue only those who actively discriminated against disabled people? It would not in any way affect people who did not discriminate.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I do not want to rehearse an argument that we had late last Tuesday night, but I should have thought that anyone listening to the small debate that we had on taxis, and realising that it would perhaps have been a rather larger debate had it been held earlier in the day, would appreciate that in that narrow field there would be the danger of a backlash. We saw just that problem occurring there. Some of us have a briefing from organisations in which I at least believe that one can see the danger of a backlash and a need for us to bring everybody with us if we are to improve the day-to-day living of disabled people, not just in special areas but everywhere.

In response to the point made by my noble friend Lady Flather, I feel that she misunderstands the American experience. There is no independent enforcement agency in the United States covering all aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act. There is the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, but that is hardly an example to follow. Perhaps I may quote from a recent report published by the Millbank Memorial Fund:


    "Backlogs of complaints at the EEOC have been problematic for years and are increasing. EEOC's inventory of pending charges grew to 85,212 through March 1994—20,000 more than the previous year. The average time to process a charge rose from 274 days to 293 days in the same period".

I turn to the matter of test cases. I believe that test cases and formal investigations have little general application in the area of disability. Disabled people

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come in groups of one. The language itself is misleading us into perceiving disabled people as a single group with the same needs. That is not the case. What an 18 year-old with epilepsy needs is different from what an 80 year-old with chronic arthritis needs. Even with the same impairments, there will be significant differences in effect. Somebody losing his hearing in his sixties faces very different challenges from someone who is born deaf. While a central body taking test cases to court may be able to set helpful precedents on behalf of women, there seems little scope for it to do the same for disabled people, who form such a diverse group. Similarly, a company's policies, practices and procedures will rarely disadvantage disabled people as a whole.

Earl Russell: I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene. He is quite right about the variousness of the cases. But does not that strengthen rather than weaken the need for a central body with specialist knowledge?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: There is a body with specialist knowledge; namely, the NDC. We are talking about investigation at this time. I was going on to say that we believe that the mechanisms that we have provided will largely replace the need for formal investigations. In any event, interestingly enough, those are used very rarely by the existing commissions. The EOC commenced only one investigation under that heading in 1993.

My final objection to a commission stems from the different social context in which we are introducing this legislation from that which operated in the 1970s. I shall resist the temptation to list all the deeply held beliefs and policies of the 1970s which have now been discarded in the 1990s. People are very much more aware now of their rights than they were then. That has been achieved in part by the huge growth in the voluntary sector in the past 20 years. There are hundreds of organisations, both voluntary and in the public sector, with considerable expertise in providing information and advice to disabled people. Nothing similar was available in the 1970s to help women or people with different racial backgrounds. I believe that the correct approach is to build on the important foundations that we have and to develop them further. In particular, we need to provide advice locally which gets to the root of problems without delay and ensures that disabled people get the help they need to secure their rights.

One can establish centrally the elaborate framework of rights required to span the wide diversity of disabled people's needs. But, frankly, a set of general rules will get us only so far. We need a local service to get close enough to the local issues to resolve individual cases.

I hope that I have shown that a commission would not work and demonstrated that the council will perform admirably the task of advising the Government. I should now like to explain how we propose to help individual disabled people. Our aim in providing conciliation and support services is to offer mechanisms for resolving disputes quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively without lengthy litigation and at the local level where the problems arise.

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We intend to set up under the Bill advice services to support rights of access to goods and services which will be equipped to provide a face-to-face service to individuals and resolve disputes at local level without the need for more formal action.

The Employment Service will provide advice to individual employers and disabled people on the proper application of the new employment right. Where a claim of discrimination has been or could be made against an employer, a disabled person will be able to seek help from an ACAS conciliation officer. The advice and support services will explore the facts in individual cases and standard questionnaire procedures will be provided to aid the processes and ensure a common approach across the country.

The procedures at industrial tribunals and small claims courts, where we envisage that most cases will be heard, are relatively simple and inexpensive. It costs nothing to take a case to a tribunal and only a few pounds to go to a small claims court. Both mechanisms are designed to be used by individuals without legal representation, with the tribunal or judge specifically charged to draw out the facts of the case. Some 90 per cent. of cases under the sex discrimination and equal pay legislation are already taken to industrial tribunals without the aid of the Equal Opportunities Commission. Therefore, it is misguided to think that individuals will be unable to secure their rights without the aid of a commission. That was what the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, tempted us into thinking.

I am sorry to go on, but there are other amendments in this group. I now turn to Amendments Nos. 114 and 115. They would provide the council with funding to meet the responsibility of appointing its own staff and those associated with its other duties. Amendment No. 116 concerns financial records and Amendment No. 117 removes regulation-making powers from the Secretary of State. I believe that the amendments are unnecessary. The arrangements in the Bill are in line with those made for other advisory bodies, such as the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee and the Social Security Advisory Committee. They will be the most appropriate for the kind of council that we believe should be established.

I believe that the provisions in the Bill will set up arrangements which best serve the needs of disabled people, business and government. The National Disability Council will be an influential voice, ensuring that we keep working to eliminate discrimination against disabled people. It will report publicly to Parliament through its annual report, thereby drawing attention to its concerns and any areas where it considers that its advice has not been heeded. Again, I believe that that answers a point made by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy.

It is mistaken to think that the provisions in the Bill offer less protection to disabled people than has been given to women and ethnic minority groups. Indeed, we are giving them more. The Bill requires much more than equal treatment for disabled people. It requires business to make jobs and services accessible by making changes which accommodate the needs of the individual disabled person. The Bill's provisions are enforceable through

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courts and tribunals, although we hope and believe that the conciliation, advice and support services will be effective in resolving disputes before formal action is necessary.

These amendments would not provide disabled people with a better service. They would be costly and set up another central bureaucracy and policing force which might well jeopardise our ability to take society with us in removing discrimination against disabled people.

I cannot recommend that the Committee should accept these amendments. I do not know what my noble friend intends to do. Perhaps I should invite him to contemplate what I have said and the strength of my arguments and ask him to withdraw his amendments. I hope, if he feels that he cannot do so, that my noble friends and other noble Lords who have been convinced by my arguments will support me in the Lobby.


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