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House of Lords

Tuesday, 21st October 1997.

The House met at a quarter past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Chichester.

Lord Renwick of Clifton

Sir Robin William Renwick, KCMG, having been created Baron Renwick of Clifton, of Chelsea in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Baroness O'Cathain and the Lord Haskel.

Lord Walker of Doncaster

The Right Honourable Sir Harold Walker, Knight, having been created Baron Walker of Doncaster, of Audenshaw in the County of Greater Manchester, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Mason of Barnsley and the Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

David John Sainsbury, Esquire, having been created Baron Sainsbury of Turville, of Turville in the County of Buckinghamshire, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Sainsbury and the Lord Hollick.

Disability Discrimination Act: Implementation

2.51 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they propose to bring into force further parts of the Disability Discrimination Act 1996, while work progresses on drafting comprehensive and enforceable civil rights legislation.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, we shall move to implement the remaining rights in the Disability Discrimination Act as soon as practicable. Although the Act is far from perfect, implementing the further duties in Part III will bring real benefits for disabled people. This is only one way in which we intend to meet our commitment to comprehensive and enforceable civil rights for disabled people. While we proceed with Part III, we shall establish the task force which will look into the wider issues of securing disability rights, and begin on setting up a disability rights commission.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I welcome that Answer because not only are a

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disability rights commission and enforceable civil rights important for disabled people but the implementation of the Act is important, too? Is she further aware that many disabled people are anxious about the delays in relation to all three proposals? Will my noble friend tell the House, first, when the consultations will be concluded; secondly, how long Ministers will require to consider them; thirdly, when the commission will be set up; and, fourthly, when we shall have implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act and enforceable civil rights?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Ashley for welcoming my Answer. As regards the task force, some details have yet to be decided. The inquiry will be chaired by my honourable friend Mr. Alan Howarth, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Education and Employment. Its work will take approximately 18 months, but that will not prevent consideration of the commission and its setting up. The Act will take some time to implement fully, but we expect that it will be in place by 2005. That was the year which the previous government set for completion of the work required for implementation.

Earl Howe: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House a little more about the Government's plans to set up a disability rights commission? What will be the cost of setting up and running the commission and what will be its remit?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, it is premature to try to estimate the cost. However, I am sure that your Lordships will welcome a commission which is concerned to ensure the civil rights of disabled people. Legislation is required, which is one of the reasons why it is too early to give its exact cost and precise remit. We do not yet have a Bill, nor will we have before the next Session of Parliament at the earliest.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, will my noble friend be good enough to bear in mind the fact that the Royal British Legion will have an interest in this matter? Despite the attitude of Members opposite, I believe that the Royal British Legion is an honourable organisation--

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Molloy: My Lords, it is about time that those Members stopped sniping at it. Will my noble friend ensure that the legion is duly informed of any changes, because it has a natural interest in the matter?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, all groups which have an interest in disability will be consulted by the task force, which is to be set up soon. Furthermore, the disability rights commission, when it is eventually in place, will take the views of groups such as the Royal British Legion and many others which have an interest in the matter.

Lord Addington: My Lords, will the Minister assure me that guidance will be specific and therefore all

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sectors will know exactly what they must do? Furthermore, will the National Disability Council be given sufficient funding to fulfil that obligation, thereby eliminating the danger of many people violating the civil rights of disabled people as a result of ignorance?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the National Disability Council is an important body in representing the interests of disabled people. Whether it will be sensible to continue with the council after the establishment of the commission is another matter. In the meantime, we shall ensure that the council has the resources to carry out its work, and we shall take note of everything that its representatives say.

Lord Rix: My Lords, does the Minister agree that if welfare to work is to be effective for people with disabilities, the co-operation of small companies will be necessary? If so, will she tell the House whether the exemption of small companies--that is, those with 20 or fewer employees--to take on disabled people in the application of the Disability Discrimination Act will cease before 2005?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am aware that there is considerable anxiety about that exemption and the Government are examining it. However, the exemption is clearly set out in tightly defined regulations in the Act and therefore no changes can be made until Parliament considers those.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that it took years to get this legislation on to the statute book, that it was a compromise and that it was not demanding on the Government? Bearing in mind that the Minister will receive the support of employers' organisations, will she act to speed up the timetable for its implementation?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am aware that in spite of the fact that many organisations representing disabled people have reservations about the Act, it is in the interests of such people that Part III is implemented. I can give no guarantee about the speed of the implementation, but we shall consider whether we can move a little faster than was intended by our predecessors, the Conservative Government.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the long-term aim for the year 2005 should be that there is equal protection for the rights of disabled people and other victims of discrimination with equally effective enforcement in respect of all the main forbidden grounds of discrimination?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, yes, I agree with that. However, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, will understand that it will take some time to achieve it and that the Government are determined to make progress in that.

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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords--

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, as we have taken eight minutes on this Question, I wonder whether the noble Lord will allow the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, to ask a question.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, there is a section in the Act which deals with taxis, and many taxis have now been adapted for disabled people. What will the Government do to those taxi drivers who refuse to pick up disabled people, therefore making their lives very difficult?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am sure that that is exactly the sort of issue which the task force, which is to be set up very shortly, should look at. I shall make sure that the chairman of the task force is aware of concerns expressed about it in this House.

NHS Trusts: Board Membership

3 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to ensure that National Health Trust board members are resident in the areas of the boards to which they belong.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, under the Government's new procedures, candidates are expected to live in the area served by the trust involved. Only in exceptional circumstances would we be prepared to depart from that: for example, where there are severe local recruitment problems--and I am glad to say that, as far as I can see, that is not the case at the moment; or where a particularly strong candidate has demonstrated in some other way his commitment to the local community; or where there is someone living only just outside the borders of the trust whom it might be sensible to appoint.

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