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Lord Ackner: My Lords, after the protestation of affection—although, perhaps, not undying affection—of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, I feel that I owe him a short intervention. Unless the amendment or something of its kind is accepted, it seems to me that there is a serious risk of the Short Title of the Bill, the Disability Discrimination Bill, becoming even shorter and ending up merely as the Disability Bill. I say that because it will contain within its own pages an essential disability; namely, the lack of any authoritative body with appropriate powers. Without such powers, I cannot see how one can expect the law to function effectively. Therefore, I support the amendment.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I shall not detain the House for long on the matter. I have very seldom participated in a debate on an amendment which received such tremendous support from so many parts of the House. We are now talking about something which is effectively the engine which will drive the legislation on and make it successful. If we do not have something which will give real teeth to what is put into the legislation, it will fail and fail miserably.

At present, disabled people—that is, people who have difficulty with reading, writing or mobility—are being asked to take on cases by themselves. We need the proposed amendment or something very like it. If the Government have had a change of heart at this point I should be very glad to hear it; but I do not believe that they have. The legislation will provide a body which has the legal powers and, it is to be hoped, the financial power, to ensure that we give effect to the regulations within it. Without such powers, much of the rest of the Bill is pointless because it will not have any effect. Historically an Act which has had no mechanism to support it has not been effective. I refer, for example, to the Factory Acts of the 19th century. Those Acts had no effect until inspectors were appointed to inspect factories. An Act that is not backed up in this way might as well not exist. I ask the House in all sincerity whether there is any real point in having this Act unless we have strong enforcement powers.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate referred towards the end of his speech to his confusion in this matter. I, too, am somewhat perplexed. Even though I have not uttered upon it until this moment it was many weeks ago that my noble friend the Minister first aroused my interest in this Bill. I have listened to the debates in the Chamber and I attended meetings outside it. Even if my noble friend had not aroused my interest, as chairman of the Stroke Association sooner or later I would have sparked on certain aspects of this Bill. Stroke, which affects an extra 100,000 people every year, can occur at any age. The youngest person we have recorded with stroke-like symptoms had not even been born. Those symptoms occurred in the womb. The next youngest was only two years old. Although one usually thinks of stroke as an impairment of people's later years, that is not the case. One only has to look around this Chamber to know that there is life after stroke. Therefore it behoves us to

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think what kind of life that is. Will it be a working life? It could well be with the right sort of advice and the right sort of encouragement.

That rapid introduction brings me straight to the meat of these amendments. It seems to me that the protagonists are like two dinosaurs locking horns. On the one hand, we have a concordat, not only of all the disability charities, but also of the Employers Forum on Disability. They believe that the Government have produced a good, even a very good Bill, on the rights of disabled people, but that it has one fatal flaw to which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, has just referred. The disability commission proposed in this Bill seems to do nothing for anyone except the Secretary of State. He certainly needs up-to-date advice on the state of the law and practice affecting disabled people. But—it is a very big but—so do disabled people and their possible employers.

The Government, of course, are my other horned dinosaur. They know full well what is needed: an organisation to protect disabled people from the possible sins of employers—ACAS, we are told, can do that—and an organisation to advise on access for disabled people. The advice centres proposed by my noble friend in Committee are an obvious route. But what we simply do not have is a one-stop shop, and it is that that all the workers in the field desperately believe is needed.

I can readily understand the Government's reluctance to set up a national proselytising body: the equivalent perhaps of the Equal Opportunities Commission. I am sure that body does a lot of good work but that is marred—and I am afraid, badly marred—by the occasional howler. I recently came across one such in my capacity as a governor of a large comprehensive school in Taunton. An opinion was sought from that body on the law and practice of schoolgirls wearing skirts at school. I shall not weary the House with all the details but I shall be happy to place a copy of the document in your Lordships' Library for information. A short extract will suffice on this occasion. Paragraph 5 is headed "Stereotype". It states,

    "Uniform skirts and trousers encourage boys and girls to identify with the behaviour of adults of the same sex. This leads to a perpetuation in the new generation of the sharply different roles of the sexes in earlier generations. The skirt reminds the girls' teachers and male peers that she is female, that sex differences are important"—

wait for it—

    "that society expects her to be less of a scholar than a boy".

This is in a school which has recently been the subject of an Ofsted report in which it was praised for having produced boys' results of the same high educational standard as the girls' results. Paragraph 5 continues,

    "Forbidding girls to wear trousers, therefore, forces girls into role playing and stereotyped attitudes which define the treatment of individuals according to social expectations of what is appropriate for each sex".

I leave noble Lords to draw their own conclusions from that.

No one, certainly not I, will wish for a proselytising body. I therefore believe that these amendments fall at the last fence; namely, in Amendment No. 86A the proposed new subsection (2A) (d) states that the new council is,

    "to undertake ... any educational activities".

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I stress the word "any". Amendment No. 92 states in the proposed new subsection (3),

    "Assistance by the Council under this section may include—giving advice".

I would have no problem with that if the words were changed slightly to read,

    "responding to requests for advice".

However, to spit it out willy-nilly is not something that I can support. An organisation which the Secretary of State, disabled people and employers can use and respect is infinitely to be desired.

The Government's other main worry, as I understand it, is costs. I believe that that is a real and sensible concern. If I am right about employers wanting the new commission or council, call it what you will, they have the obvious remedy. They can either be charged by the advisory council, or disband their existing forum on disability and put the money towards a more general council such as these amendments provide for.

I am in a quandary. I want a broader council but, equally, I believe that the Government have won some, even most, of the arguments. I hope that my noble friend Lord Mackay will produce further arguments for my voting with the Government today. If not, I am afraid that I still cannot support any of these amendments for the reasons I have given. I shall therefore abstain.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I make a brief point for clarification. We are not discussing Amendment No. 92—

Noble Lords: We are on Report!

Lord Renton: My Lords, everyone who has spoken in favour of these amendments seems to have overlooked a vital fundamental factor: that we are to have one disability council. Its work is to cover the whole of the United Kingdom, including even Northern Ireland. In the amendment it is suggested that it should be given power to consider individual cases of various kinds and in various circumstances. I am surprised that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, did not notice this. It seems that it is even, as stated in the proposed new subsection (2A) (b) of Amendment No. 86A,

    "to provide assistance, including legal and financial assistance ... in enforcing their rights under this Act—";

that is, going to court. The body is to have a jurisdiction with regard to legal aid. How can it consider individual cases and deal with all these particular matters which will arise locally all over the United Kingdom from one central body? I should have thought that regional offices would not be enough. One would have to have at least one in every district. That would add tremendously to the cost of administering the Bill. I do not think it is necessary because I personally have sufficient faith in the system of enforcement that is already in the Bill which provides industrial tribunals for employment cases and the courts in other cases. I greatly respect all those who have spoken and all the outside pressure groups who have advised them but I really do not feel that in practice it would be wise to accept my noble friend's amendment.

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