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3.34 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House to know that, subject to the progress of business, it is anticipated that the Easter Recess will include the week beginning Monday 5th April and the Whitsun Recess will include the week beginning Monday 31st May.

The House may also like to note that there will be a debate on Monday 22nd February to draw attention to the White Paper on reform of the House of Lords.

Lord Henley: My Lords, perhaps I may begin by thanking the noble Lord the Chief Whip for offering us at least one day to debate the White Paper, having initially and rather inexplicably refused the requests of the official Opposition for such a debate. I also thank the noble Lord for partially offering us the dates for both the Easter and the Whitsun Recesses. I hope that at the earliest possible stage he will give the House the exact start and finish dates so that noble Lords who wish to make arrangements, for instance, to travel abroad can get ahead with buying tickets and making their plans.

Will the noble Lord also confirm that another place will be taking a few days' extra holiday the week after next? Does he think that we in this House should be taking an extra holiday? What assurances can he give that, in so doing, another place will not further exacerbate the legislative log-jam which we nearly always experience towards the end of the summer? What guarantees can the noble Lord give that we shall not be sitting into August and that we shall rise at a decent time in July?

Lord Carter: My Lords, as always, the noble Lord receives full marks for a good try. I did not refuse the request he made; I said that I would consider it.

The other place is taking only a two-day break, on Wednesday 17th and Thursday 18th. I had been considering the possibility of a long weekend for your Lordships. However, the official Opposition were so insistent that a debate on Lords' reform was required that I felt bound to oblige them--even though the House has recently held a two-day debate on this topic; debated the reform on a traditional Queen's Speech day; and even though a Bill is to be debated during this Session. I am afraid that the noble Lord the Opposition Chief Whip cannot have it both ways.

Access to Justice Bill [H.L.]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clauses 2 to 7, Schedule 2,

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Clauses 8 to 14, Schedule 3, Clauses 15 to 22, Schedule 4, Clauses 23 to 34, Schedule 5, Clauses 35 and 36, Schedule 6, Clauses 37 to 50, Schedule 7, Clause 51, Schedule 8, Clauses 52 to 60, Schedule 9, Clauses 61 to 74, Schedule 10, Clause 75, Schedule 11, Clauses 76 to 79.--(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Disability Rights Commission Bill [H.L.]

3.37 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Baroness Blackstone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [The Disability Rights Commission]:

Lord Ashley of Stoke moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 8, at end insert ("and fulfil its duties as established by section 2(1).").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is set in the framework of an important and warmly welcomed Bill. It is a very significant measure. I hope that the amendment will be accepted by the Committee expeditiously. I intend to speak as briefly as possible to this and other amendments so that the Bill has a fair wind.

The purpose of the amendment is to discuss the adequacy of the amount of money allocated by the Government--which I believe to be inadequate. I am not saying that many more millions of pounds are needed; however, I believe that the commission will stutter along unless it is adequately financed. The £11 million allocated by the Government, plus £3 million for start-up, is nothing like the amount of money that the Commission for Racial Equality has. There can be no doubt that the problems of disability are far greater than those of race or sex in so far as disability issues are far more complicated. There are between 5 and 7 million disabled people. In addition, the Disability Discrimination Act is very complicated.

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For all those reasons much more money must be provided. Susan Scott-Parker of the Employers' Forum on Disability, who is a considerable expert on these matters, has said that given the complexity of the legislation and the number of disabled people the commission's budget should be significantly more and not less than that of the CRE.

I believe that the Committee is entitled to an explanation of how the Government have reached this figure. I should like to receive a full explanation of it from my noble friend. In response to a Parliamentary Question in the other place all the Minister did was to explain how the money might be allocated. That is helpful information. But how did the Government arrive at this figure? On what criteria did they base the figure? If the Minister responds to those points we shall be able to discuss this Bill far more intelligently than at present. At the moment we are in the dark.

The word "reasonable" runs throughout the Act with which this Bill is concerned. As no one knows what is reasonable until the courts have decided the matter there will be many cases that seek to define what is reasonable. I hope that an adequate sum of money will be allocated for all of these cases. The commission must be a state-of-the-art model, fully accessible and provide information in alternate and alternative ways. For example, different formats are required for blind people, deaf people and those with learning disabilities. I hope that that will be accepted. The fact is that the full White Paper on the disability rights commission was not available in Braille even on request. Braille readers must make do with a very short summary. This is an inadequate provision. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give this amendment a fair wind. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Croy: I am glad that at the beginning of our debate in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, raises the question of the amount of money that is to be made available. As I understand it, the Government have indicated that about £3 million will be available to set up the commission and that it will run on £11 million a year. The disability organisations that have contacted me believe that that cannot possibly be enough. I recognise that nothing will ever be enough to meet all of the aspirations that have been raised.

Perhaps I may remind the Committee that there are all kinds of disabilities. This body is not like the Equal Opportunities or Race Relations Commissions. There are very many different kinds of disability, for example the blind and the deaf to whom the noble Lord referred. Within that there are many degrees of severity of disability. A huge number of rights of all kinds will be raised. As I indicated at Second Reading, it will be difficult for the commission to decide where to begin and what should and should not be recognised as serious rights that have been infringed. I should also like to hear at an early stage the Government's response to the noble Lord's amendment.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Morris of Manchester: As the Committee is aware, for many years my noble friend Lord Ashley chaired the All-Party Disablement Group of MPs and

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Peers, of which he is now joint chairman. What he said in moving the amendment reflects the concern of that important group about the vital necessity to ensure adequate funding of the disability rights commission. As he said, disability organisations are not convinced that the funding announced is adequate to support the substantial duties of the commission. They seek an explanation from the Government of how the figure of £11 million has been calculated. Nor are they alone. As my noble friend said, the Employers' Forum on Disability, too, has expressed concern about the budget. Its chief executive has commented:

    "The Forum has sought a legislative framework which positions disability clearly on a par with race and gender as a national priority, and we welcome the establishment of a central authoritative body. Our concern, however, must be that unless sufficient moneys are allocated parity will simply not be achieved".

Substantial funds need to be set aside for its work in supporting disabled people and on communication aids and advocacy. The commission will need to be a model of accessibility. This will include providing information in alternative formats and supporting people with learning disabilities, about which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will want to speak.

It was most disturbing that, as my noble friend said, the full White Paper on the disability rights commission was not available in Braille even on request. Braille readers had to make do with a short summary. Full access for all disabled people may require a specialist team of workers within the commission. The commission itself will be liable under the Disability Discrimination Act and, as a public body, under the Human Rights Act. Should the commission use its power to set up regional offices to provide local information, advice and support to disabled people and business, £11 million is unlikely to be adequate. The Commission for Racial Equality has such a regional presence and has funding of £14.5 million. Given the extra costs related to accessibility and advising on the complicated issue of reasonable adjustments, the costs of the disability rights commission may be significantly higher.

This amendment like others tabled by my noble friend merits a positive response from the Government. I know that my noble friend the Minister will at least want to assure us today that the funding announced so far is not unalterable and that she will do all that she can to help in conveying our concern to her ministerial colleagues.

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