Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Ashley of Stoke: I support my noble friend, who put her case so well. I am extremely surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, should say that there is a danger of creating a precedent because my noble friend went out of her way to say that the precedent is already established in the Sex Discrimination Act.

The principle is precisely the same. The strength of my noble friend's case is that because the section is in that Act it gives us a valuable precedent and is a crucial part of the legislation. Therefore, by omitting the principle from the Bill, the Government are, in a sense, discriminating against disabled people by their failure to provide adequate legislation. We are not at all interested in existing legislation; we are concerned with future legislation. That is a very important factor and one of the important reasons why my noble friend deserves support.

Can the Minister say why the Government deliberately omitted that clause? Perhaps I may speculate on two possible excuses, although I am sure that the Minister will have a very good reason rather than excuses. However, my first example is on the question of money. No government want to spend money unreasonably, but, as the Minister well knows, there is provision in the Bill to cover unreasonable accommodation. Therefore, there is no question of unreasonable amounts of money being spent because of the amendment, which I hope the Minister will accept.

The only other excuse or reason that I can think of is that the Government do not want the hassle and that they fear that arguments will arise over such issues as safety regulations. But we will not remove discrimination and prejudice or get reasonable provision for disabled people without a lot of hassle. We shall have the hassle in any event when the Bill is enacted; but hassle is an essential and worthwhile price to pay. If the Government fail to accept the amendment, I believe that they will have far more hassle if subsequent legislation goes against the letter or the spirit of the Bill.

Lord Swinfen: My name is attached to the amendment and I should like especially to support its principle. My noble friend Lord Renton praised Clause 23(2). Of course, it may have been faint praise, but it was nonetheless praise. However, how can subsection (2) work without there being some work on subsection (1)? Looking at the provisions and the regulations produced under the legislation, one would have to undertake a certain amount of investigation to ascertain whether there are any contradictory Acts around.

27 Jun 1995 : Column 664

When he responds to the amendment, can my noble friend the Minister say whether, as drafted, the provision would cover secondary legislation? I ask that question because I have a feeling that it may cover only primary legislation. I suspect that most of the problems are caused not necessarily by primary legislation (which should be looked at by parliamentary draftsmen when preparing Bills) but by the way in which the regulations produced under various enactments are actually put into effect.

Perhaps I may give Members of the Committee an example from my own experience when dealing with fire officers. When there is a change of individual holding a particular post, all the requirements in a particular building also change because the new man's fads—and it is normally a man—happen to be totally different. Such changes can prove to be very expensive for disabled organisations and also for business.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: I do not know whether this is the right time to mention it, but I have received yet another letter. This time the letter is from the vice-chairman of the Oxford City Access Committee. The committee is most concerned about city centres of such towns as Oxford which are being closed to traffic. The letter says:

    "I beg you to use your influence to press for more power to be given to local authorities when they shortly take over responsibility for access for disabled people in city centres. In fact, a legal right of access is needed".

I hope that the Minister will ensure that such a provision is somehow incorporated into the Bill. Access is absolutely essential to such people if they are to live a normal life.

Lord Carter: It may be of assistance to the noble Baroness to know that I have tabled Amendment No. 126A which deals with that very point.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: I thank the noble Lord for that information.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The amendment seeks to place a separate duty on the NDC to examine legislation to ascertain whether it is inconsistent or contrary to the aim of eliminating discrimination against disabled people. I hope that Members of the Committee will forgive me if I tell the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, that I believe her point does not actually arise under the current amendment. However, we shall perhaps deal with it later. I shall certainly look into the point that she mentioned. Moreover, if Members of the Committee will extend a little further tolerance to me, I should say that I have looked into the point that the noble Baroness raised regarding an earlier letter that she read out this afternoon. The noble Baroness said that it was letter number one. I was surprised at the suggestion that my honourable friend Mr. Hague, the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, had—and I believe that I remember the words correctly—"fobbed off" a disabled constituent.

I believe that that letter led the noble Baroness to take a very partial view on the matter. However, far from fobbing off the gentleman, my honourable friend has

27 Jun 1995 : Column 665

written to the council on his constituent's behalf on no fewer than four occasions since last December. As the council has the responsibility in the issue, that clearly is the body which my honourable friend must consult.

My honourable friend has also secured a temporary extension of the taxi licence while the matter is being investigated further. I do not want to go into any more detail on the matter, but I should like to restore the balance as regards the picture painted—unwittingly, I know—by the noble Baroness. As other people have said, and as I am sure the noble Baroness appreciates, my honourable friend has an excellent record on behalf of disabled people in general and regarding his own disabled constituents.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: For the sake of the record, perhaps I may tell the Minister that that was not letter number one; it was a telephone call. Letter number one came from Devon.

However, I was very pleased to hear what the Minister said. I hope that there will be a satisfactory outcome. If the matter has been going on for as long as the Minister said, it really is a very serious problem. Indeed, we are talking about the poor man's livelihood. Therefore, to take away his bread and butter—and he is a taxpayer—and throw him into unemployment would be ridiculous.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: As I said, thanks to the intervention of my honourable friend, that gentleman now has a temporary extension of his licence while the matter is being resolved. Therefore, as they say, we should carefully watch this space.

I appreciate the concerns expressed by Members of the Committee who have taken part in this short debate and especially those raised specifically by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood. I, too, envisage that the NDC may wish to pursue that area. My noble friend Lord Renton, with his unerring eye, drew our attention to Clause 23(2). Some of the duties of the council are laid out in that subsection and encompassed in them would be the ability to apply the role that I believe the noble Baroness wishes it to play; namely, to look at the important area of other legislation. Indeed, although I am not a lawyer, my eye is caught by subsection (2) (c) in particular which says:

    "It shall be the duty of the Council to advise the Secretary of State, either on its own initiative or when asked to do so by the Secretary of State—

(c) on matters related to the operation of this Act or of provisions made under this Act".
Therefore, quite clearly—

Lord Swinfen: If, when the legislation becomes enacted, it clashes with another Act, would advice on amending the other Act be allowed?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I thought that my noble friend had lost patience with me. I was just about to tell him that that would, of course, include secondary legislation. I believe that that answers one of my noble friend's points.

However, the question is: what would happen to that advice? I would expect that in most cases—and I use the word "most" with a little care—the Government

27 Jun 1995 : Column 666

would try to take the opportunity (and obviously, if it is legislation, that has to be the way that it is done) to square up the Bill and whatever Act or secondary legislation has been drawn to their attention as being contradictory.

I would not like to say that in every case they would be able to repeal the offending part of a previous Act. There may be other or conflicting interests which require to be balanced. We all know about the difficulties concerning fire prevention and health and safety which may well conflict with this Bill. In some cases a future government may not be able to go down the road the NDC might wish them to go down.

However, I see the NDC as a valuable body from which the Government could obtain advice on those conflicts. I would expect that in the great majority of cases the Government would take steps to make sure that the conflict was removed. However, I should not like to lead my noble friend into believing that there is a guarantee that the Government would act in every case. The other interests involved have to be considered.

As I said, the council will be free to consider these matters on its own initiative. Should it consider that a piece of legislation is inhibiting the elimination of discrimination and needs to be amended it will be within the council's remit to advise the Secretary of State how that could be done.

While we do not envisage that the council would produce a report for publication on each piece of legislation examined, it would be open to the Secretary of State to use the council's report as a basis for wider consultation. The council might also wish to include details of its consideration of legislation in its annual report, as I mentioned earlier. The Northern Ireland Disability Council will have a similar ability in relation to Northern Ireland legislation.

I hope that the debate has served to demonstrate the breadth of the NDC's general duties as proposed in the Bill and the influential position it will hold. We do not believe that it would be right to try to identify all the areas which the NDC may wish to consider in detail on the face of the Bill as those are bound to change over time. However, I hope that, given my assurances on the points before us this evening, the noble Baroness can withdraw her amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page