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Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I believe that my noble friend will find that 95 per cent. of people who are employed are not covered even under the revised regulations. It is the people who matter, not the number of firms.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, having debated this previously, my recollection was that the Act covers the great bulk of people in the workplace. But my noble friend has a great interest in these matters and I must certainly check before I use those figures again.

My noble friend said that lots of people had said that there should be a reduction. Your Lordships should be careful before imposing burdens of regulation and cost on small businesses, often businesses revolving around one person with his employees. If your Lordships know anyone who is involved in such a company, it will be possible to confirm by talking to them that they have plenty to do at the moment in obeying the various rules and regulations which already exist without adding yet more to them.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, the noble Lord has talked about burdens on industry. Does he not agree that the Act provides that only "reasonable" adaptation needs to be made. The word "reasonable" is a quote from the Act.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I know that. I did not wish to become involved in an argument about this. I just wanted to put down a marker. For many small businessmen, it is extremely difficult to define what is "reasonable". It may involve them seeking advice from a lawyer for which they must pay. That is another problem for them. I urge caution. It is much more important that small businesses should be encouraged in these matters rather than have legislation imposed upon them.

Having said that, I look forward to my noble friends, the two noble Baronesses, dealing with the Committee stage and I wish the Bill well.

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1.37 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I very much welcome the full debate that we have had on this important Bill. As I said, the establishment of the commission is an historic decision and it is one which I believe will be welcomed by disabled people and many others right across the country.

We have heard a great deal of interesting history today, notably from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and my noble friends Lord Morris and Lord Ashley of Stoke. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said that there is at least 100 years of campaigning, if we add up the number of years that noble Lords, both inside and outside the House, have worked hard to promote the interests of disabled people.

I recognise also, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, suggested the efficiency of the cross-party group on disability. I know that we shall be hearing more about them during the course of the later stages of the Bill.

We have a responsibility to ensure that we provide the most effective commission possible which will be able to perform all the necessary functions that lead progressively towards the elimination of discrimination. To that end, I welcome the many constructive comments that I have heard. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that we should like to see a commission which is not just a legislative body. We want it to provide advice and information and to educate people about the rights of disabled people. It will have a very important role, working with a whole variety of organisations in pursuit of those aims. Of course, it will also have a key role in providing employers and service providers with such advice. I am sure that raising awareness will be a central part of its work.

I was delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, was speaking for the Opposition on this Bill. As he said, he has considerable experience, having taken the DDA through this House. I am delighted to have his support for a disability rights commission, even though it is just a little belated. I am only sorry that I shall not be seeing him across the Dispatch Box when we reach the later stages of the Bill.

I turn now to some of the comments raised in the course of the debate. A number of noble Lords raised the matter of funding for the commission. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, referred to that matter, although he admitted that when in government those matters look rather different from when one is in opposition. The noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Croy, Lord Rix and Lord Addington, also referred to funding. We estimate that the commission's running costs budget will be around £11 million per annum. We have also put aside £3 million for setting-up costs. That estimate was arrived at by looking at what functions we expect the commission to carry out and costing them using the best available information that we have. We believe that this estimate is realistic and that it will enable the commission to carry out its functions effectively.

The commission will need to provide an effective advice and information service in the way that I have already set out, and the funding reflects that. I believe I am right in saying that the funding we propose for the

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commission compares favourably with that of the existing commissions where the functions are similar. However, because the commission will be a new organisation working in a more complex area, we have allocated it almost double the resources of its sister organisation, the Equal Opportunities Commission. I hope Members of your Lordships' House will welcome that. There is no reason to think that those funds will not be adequate both to undertake its enforcement work and its promotional activities. However, that is something that the Government will want to review.

A number of speakers in this debate--my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke and the noble Lords, Lord Swinfen, Lord Rix and Lord Addington--referred to the issue of recovery of costs. The provision in the Bill allows the disability rights commission to recover the costs associated with assisting an individual when an award for costs is made by a court or tribunal or agreement is reached in respect of costs as part of the settlement. That again mirrors the arrangements in place for other commissions.

I should make it absolutely clear that the Bill does not provide for the commission to recover costs from compensation, settlements reached out of court or in a tribunal in respect of compensation. The question of whether the commission should be able to recover the costs from compensation awards to an individual was raised in the White Paper. It is clearly a sensitive issue and one that gave rise to debate. There are arguments in support of such a provision which have force and we shall need to weigh them carefully against any arguments to the contrary.

The Government have not reached a definitive view on that matter. However, no provision has been made in the Bill to do so. But I hope your Lordships will see the wisdom of not ruling out now for all time the possibility that the commission may be allowed to recover costs from compensation or from settlements reached. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, asked a more specific question in relation to the recovery of costs. It is only when the DRC assists a disabled person with expenses, such as solicitors' or barristers' fees, and the court or tribunal orders the other party to pay those expenses that the DRC will be able to recover them. If a court or tribunal awards to a disabled person expenses with which he had no help from the DRC, the disabled person will retain those expenses.

Many speakers in the debate raised the issue of the appointment of commissioners. A number of different speakers pointed to the importance of ensuring that specific groups of disabled people are not left out in the work of the commission, and perhaps at this point I can assure them that the Government's intention is that all forms of disability should be covered. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, referred particularly to the fact that disability is sometimes seen as physical disability. The right reverend Prelate rightly raised the issue of those who suffer from serious mental illness. It is important that we do not forget such groups and the Government want to be absolutely clear today in saying that they will not be forgotten.

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The commission must establish credibility with its key stakeholders from the start if it is to be effective. It must understand the needs of disabled people and those of employers and service providers to be able to do its job effectively. In that regard I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, was saying. The Secretary of State will seek to appoint commissioners so that collectively they have a wide range of experience. As I mentioned earlier, we expect to have a commission of around 10 to 15 strong.

Noble Lords will surely understand that all the commissioners cannot have direct experience of every kind of business or every type of disability--that would be quite unrealistic. Again, as my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, said, we cannot and should not aim for all or nearly all of the commissioners to be disabled people; we also need representatives of business and the service world. The provisions in the Bill reflect the Disability Rights Task Force recommendations. The recruitment process will be an open and accessible one and appointments will be based on merit. People who are not disabled will be free to apply and, other than taking account of the requirement to appoint a majority of disabled commissioners--that is the absolute requirement; it can go somewhat higher, as my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke suggested--there will be no barrier to the recruitment of a wide range of people if they are good candidates for the post.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, asked what would happen if a future Disability Rights Task Force were to come up with different recommendations than those embodied in the Bill before us today. I believe that the task force considered in great detail the role and functions of the disability rights commission. We have already received its advice. The July 1999 recommendations will concern other issues and not the specific question of the role and function of the commission.

The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, referred to codes of practice. The DRC will issue codes of practice but the Secretary of State must first approve them, place them before Parliament and bring them into force. That is similar to the arrangements that exist for the other equality commissions--they are almost the same as for the EAC.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked about assistance in relation to the health service. Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act provides rights to disabled people in the area of access to goods and services. It covers the health service, and so far as problems faced by disabled people relate to discrimination, the disability rights commission will be able to assist them.

The noble Baroness asked whether hotels are service providers. I can confirm that that is the case and we intend to bring in the rights of access provision relating to the removal of physical barriers somewhat later. It is important in the meantime that service providers, as a matter of good practice, move forward in that kind of area.

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The noble Baroness asked also about the whole issue of conciliation. She was concerned about the relationship of the commission to conciliation arrangements. We recognise that the commission should not be directly involved in such arrangements. That is why the Bill provides for the commission to engage another organisation to take on the function of conciliation in the area of access to goods, facilities, services, premises and so forth. To do otherwise might lead parties in conciliation to feel that arrangements were not impartial. Every effort will be made to ensure that confidentiality is maintained for both parties to conciliation. The Government also accept that the value of conciliation is very high. It can mean avoiding what could be long, expensive and distressing experiences for all parties.

The noble Baroness also referred to concerns raised by the CBI with regard to regulation powers and our intentions in respect to Section 6 of the Human Rights Act. That section of the Human Rights Act makes it unlawful for a public body to act in a way that is incompatible with the rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

When we consulted on the White Paper on the disability rights commission, we proposed that the commission should have the ability to assist individuals bringing cases under the Human Rights Act in cases where discrimination on the grounds of disability was an issue. We have included regulation-making powers in the Bill to allow us to do that. We believe that regulations will provide us with flexibility. In particular, we want to consider whether, and to what extent, the commission should be able to support cases brought under Section 6 of the Human Rights Act where they involve issues of discrimination. The relevant provisions of the Human Rights Act are not expected to be brought into force before 2000. That issue involves complex questions of law and practice and we will want to consider the detail carefully in consultation with others before coming to final decisions.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, made reference to polling booths. I believe he was using that as an example where one does not necessarily need to intervene because there are other provisions. The Government accept that there are perfectly good provisions in existence and unnecessary intervention would be unfortunate. It would be a matter for a DRC to focus its efforts effectively where they are needed. That is why the Government wish to appoint very strong commissioners who are able to do that.


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