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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain. At the moment the National Disability Council would simply advise the Secretary of State and then only on issues of goods and services and only when he asks it to. It has no independent powers to offer him advice; no independent powers to commission research or to give advice. As I say, in any case, as it does not deal with employment matters, it is certainly not able to advise employers even if the Secretary of State wanted it to.

I believe that we all agreed at Second Reading that most problems in enforcing this Bill are likely to occur not because of malevolence, but because of ignorance; not because employers and the providers of goods and services want to thwart the law, but because they do not know what the law is or what it requires. All hope that cases going to the courts and tribunals will be a last resort when all else fails. It is much better to have a culture of willing compliance rather than a climate of litigation.

How will employers' organisations and suppliers of goods and services who seek clarification of the law know where to go if they are not allowed to seek the advice of a central authoritative body? It is a very modest and tiny amendment, but at least it would ensure that companies, organisations and suppliers of goods and services get consistent advice when they seek it. Otherwise, where do they go? How do they find out what they should do? How are they going to assess what is reasonable cost and how can they be reassured that their competitors will also be complying in the same way?

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There was a revealing interchange at Committee. We discussed this matter on the first day, 13th June, at cols. 1737 to 1738. On an amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Turner, we discussed the need for employers to take expert advice. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, asked the Minister where employers could take expert advice, and the Minister said that the National Disability Council could "offer advice". When we were surprised, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, replied that, although institutionally the body could not give advice,

    "if someone were casting around, with nowhere else to go, they might find they could be helped by contacting that body".—[Official Report, 13/6/95; col. 1739.]

When the Minister said that, we all thought, "What an entirely sensible idea"—but for one small drawback; under the Bill the council has no power to do that. The Minister apologised for misleading the Committee. The Minister's first thought—that employers could go to that body—was his best thought. That body, the National Disability Council, could and should offer advice. Indeed, the Minister's reflex response was that it could offer advice. We all thought that it was sensible for it to offer advice. The Minister was somewhat surprised, when pressed, to find that it could not do so. Was not the Minister making our case for us? In the light of that, may we hope that the Minister will support the amendment?

6 p.m.

Lord Swinfen: I rise to support the amendment. If it is accepted, we shall need to take out of the Bill subsections (9) and (10), as envisaged in the group of amendments, Amendments Nos. 108, 109 and 110. Those subsections specifically prevent the National Disability Council from giving advice on employment matters.

Lord Addington: In our last debate but one I said that the noble Baroness had proposed a second way to try to make the Bill more functional—that is, to try to specify that there should be advisory powers and to try to stitch together the current rather loose structure. This is not my preferred way of doing that, but at least it is an attempt. Therefore, I support the amendment and its aims.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps I may start by making the position clear. Indeed, I thought that I had made it perfectly clear in my rather long speech on the first group of amendments. Clearly, however, I had not because the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said—I cannot quote her verbatim but I understood her to say—that the NDC could give advice only if asked to do so by the Secretary of State. I said clearly that the NDC will provide advice both on its own initiative and when asked to do so by the Secretary of State. I added—indeed, I emphasised this by pointing out that I was answering a point made by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy—that the NDC will report publicly to Parliament through its annual reports, thereby drawing attention to its concerns in any areas where it considers that its advice has not been heeded. Although I

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understand that the noble Baroness wants to go a little further, I believe that she is doing the proposed NDC a disservice to suggest that it can give advice only when asked to do so by the Secretary of State. That is certainly not the case.

We fully intend the NDC to give advice on the needs of disabled people and on how service providers can meet those needs. Practical advice on implementing the provisions relating to goods and services will be issued in codes of practice prepared by the National Disability Council. Similarly, NACEPD will give advice to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment on the employment provisions in the Bill. Indeed, NACEPD rather than NDC is best equipped to consider the wide range of employment issues as all of its members are appointed because of their knowledge and expertise in the field of employment and disability issues. They include such key figures as Sir Peter Large, who was mentioned earlier by the noble Baroness, and the director of RADAR, Mr. Bert Massie.

In particular, we shall be drawing on the expertise and experience of NACEPD when drawing up the new employment code of practice on the employment of disabled people. However, we are also fully aware that employers, service providers and disabled people will want more general information and specific advice on particular issues. That point was raised in another place and my honourable friend the Minister responsible for disabled people gave assurances that the Government intend working in co-operation with business—with, for example, the Confederation of British Industry, the chambers of commerce and local authority access officers—to ensure that people know what Parliament expects them to do once the Bill has been enacted.

Officials in the DSS and the Department of Employment are already working together to co-ordinate a framework of action to ensure that the business community and disabled people are aware of the new rights and duties created by the Bill. We shall be discussing that framework with business and with representatives of disability organisations. My honourable friend has also said that he is considering setting up a telephone helpline to provide more specific advice on particular issues.

When the NDC is set up, both it and NACEPD may wish to provide advice about those arrangements. We shall certainly put draft plans to them for their consideration, but we see no advantage to it becoming the councils' responsibility to provide such advice. The experience and skills of the NDC's members should be directed to overseeing the operation of the Act, appraising the arrangements with a truly independent eye and advising the Government on any improvements which need to be made. I remind the Committee that the Bill already contains provisions for setting up an advice and support service to help to resolve disputes under the right of access and that the services of ACAS will be available to help to settle the disputes arising from the new employment rights.

I hope that I have been able to reassure my noble friend Lady O'Cathain that the information and advice needs of business and disabled people will be met. We are at one in considering that essential for the successful

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implementation of the Bill. We shall be giving it a high priority in the lead-up to the implementation of the Bill's provisions and thereafter to ensure that the Act operates as we all intend it to operate. With that explanation, I hope that my noble friend will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness O'Cathain: The phrase which gave me the most comfort in my noble friend's speech was that officials of the DSS and the Department of Employment are working together. The impression that has been given in our long discussions on the Bill to date is that they are two cells working in different parts of Whitehall and ne'er the twain shall meet. Therefore, I found my noble friend's words most encouraging. I was also encouraged that the Government are considering setting up a helpline. Being realistic, I suppose that we should be most encouraged by the fact that my noble friend has said that he fully intends the NDC to be fully available to give practical advice on access, that it is involved in drawing up codes of practice and that NACEPD is to give practical advice on employment matters. In the light of those assurances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness O'Cathain moved Amendment No. 107:

Page 17, line 39, after ("appropriate") insert ("including appropriate organisations representative of employers and appropriate organisations representative of disabled persons").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 107, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 112, 119 and 120. My noble friend the Minister will not be surprised by these amendments because they relate to a matter that I have raised in every discussion on the Bill so far. I refer to the need to consult. It is terribly important that that happens. I hope that by now the message may have got through. I look forward to hearing my noble friend's reply. I beg to move.

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