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Lord Renton: I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, that the commission should have the widest possible power to meet its expenses. But I am sorry to say that from a technical point of view the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, would have the opposite effect. This is a technical matter. I hope that in the absence of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor I may be realistic and use the Latin expression,
Baroness Darcy de Knayth: I should like to support the amendment briefly and touch on one or two matters referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley. He made reference to the assertion of the Employers' Forum on Disability that the funding was inadequate. It is worth reminding ourselves that if it proves to be inadequate it will considerably disadvantage businesses as much as disabled people.
The noble Lord said that the commission needs to be a model of best practice, with all the support services required. Those are expensive. One nasty thought has been expressed to me. Might the commission be accused of discrimination if it is unable to provide adequate access to its services and building? No one wants that to happen. Everyone wants the commission to be a great success; we welcome it tremendously. I am sure the Minister also wants it to succeed. I hope that she can be encouraging and say that it will not falter through lack of funding.
Lord Rix: In supporting the amendment, I refer to the remarks of two noble Lords who have spoken. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that the only Latin I can remember from my school days is from Ovid:
The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, used the phrase "learning difficulties". At the outset of the Committee stage, perhaps I may stress that when we talk about "learning difficulties" we are not talking about "learning disabilities". The Bill applies to learning disabilities, originally known as mental handicap. "Mental handicap" is a phrase no longer used by the department, people with learning disabilities or, indeed, MENCAP. The phrase "learning difficulties" means something different. Millions of people in this country have learning difficulties which have nothing to do with learning disability: people with short sight; those who are hard of hearing; people with dyslexia. Those are learning difficulties. I hope that for the purposes of the Bill we shall stick to the phrase "learning disability".
I accept with great happiness my fourth billing to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke. Can the Government give us any assurances that they will take into full account the cost implications of
Lord Swinfen: I, too, have put my name to the amendment. I take on board the point made by my noble friend Lord Renton. I would not wish to press the amendment at this stage. Its purpose is to elicit information from the Government. I hope that the Minister will be fulsome in her answer in providing a lot of information on how the figure has been worked out by the Treasury. Did the Treasury talk to any other department? Did it talk to the Department of Trade and Industry to see what would be required? Did it talk to employers' organisations and trade union organisations?
I suspect that once the commission is up and running there will be far more work than may be envisaged at present. Where will the commission be based? How many regional offices will it have? If it is properly to help employers to provide adequate alterations to their premises, equipment and working practices, it will need people based all over the country. It is a practical point; it is not nebulous.
There is no point in taking the time and trouble to debate the Bill in both Houses of Parliament if the Government are not prepared to produce the funds to make it work properly. I am sure the Government want it to work properly. When the Disability Discrimination Bill was going through this House some years ago, I was one who advocated that a commission should be incorporated in that Bill. Members on the Labour Benches--at that time in Opposition--gave me considerable support, for which I was grateful. They have now brought forward this Bill and I hope that their baby will be properly clothed and not allowed to come into the world naked and cold where it will perish through lack of proper funding.
Lord Addington: Has the Minister any figures as regards the number of man hours and the skills required? I refer to the supply of information about the workings of the commission. Can the amount of money provided be based on that information? It is not enough to say that there will be almost as much money as that provided for another commission.
The amendment may be technically defective, but we are at Committee stage and wish to elicit information. It is to be hoped that, if we receive the right answers, we can drop this matter and move to other issues. However, if the Government cannot assure us that sufficient funds will be available, we shall have to revisit the subject on numerous occasions. I hope that the Minister will give us answers which refer to the technicalities of the job.
Baroness Blatch: When the Minister replies to the debate, I hope she will confirm that the word "expenses" is understood in the wider sense rather than in the narrow sense of "expenses", and that any funding of the body is intended to fulfil the duties established by Clause 2(1). Clause 2(1) provides that the commission shall have duties,
There are two issues here. One is adequacy. My noble friends, Lord Renton and Lord Campbell of Croy, have said that there will never be enough money. Any government in power will have to make a judgment about what can be afforded. But the important point is that we want the commission to work. We also want to minimise the need for litigation. For this body to do its job properly and to keep cases out of court it needs to be practical on the ground, around the country, and proffer helpful advice in particular to business, commerce and institutions which will have obligations not only under this legislation but under the Disability Discrimination Act. It needs to work alongside people. That will be costly.
It is inexplicable why the Commission for Racial Equality is to be funded so much more generously. I believe that the work of the commission will be far more complex. It will address the needs of many more people in the community than does the CRE. Its work will be more practical and on the ground. It will involve all four corners of the country. For that reason it would be helpful to know the technical work which was undertaken by the Government to arrive at the figure referred to. What is their justification for funding the CRE more generously than this body?
The body must work effectively in the interests of disabled people in this country. It must do so in the most practical and positive way; that is, by helping people in a practical way to meet their obligations under the legislation without having to resort to the courts which, at the end of the day, will be more expensive.
The sums payable by the Secretary of State are intended to allow the commission to fulfil all its main functions. The wording of Clause 1(2) is intended to achieve that. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, made clear, Amendment No. 1 is unnecessary and I hope that my noble friend will agree to withdraw it. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, indicated that it is a probing amendment.
Before answering the various questions, perhaps I may put the record straight. There appears to be confusion about whether the White Paper was available in braille. I understand that the whole White Paper was indeed available in braille on request to anyone who wanted it. A number of copies were sent to a member of the taskforce representing the RNIB.
The amendment raises an issue about the level of funding for the commission. That is what my noble friend and others who have supported the amendment wish to debate. I accept that and understand their concerns. The provisional estimate--it must be provisional at this time--of the running costs for the commission, which is £11 million a year, compares well with the existing commission, where the functions are similar. I shall turn to that issue in a moment.
I must explain that £4 million of the £15 million is spent on funding racial equality councils. They are not part of the CRE, but seek to replicate the type of network which exists in the context of disability through many voluntary organisations and other arrangements. Therefore, the funding comparison should be with the £11 million remainder for the Commission for Racial Equality. On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will agree that the funding is equitable.
I assure the Committee that the Government are determined that the disability rights commission should be funded to carry out its role effectively. I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that the Explanatory Notes, which were published alongside the Bill, made it clear that £3 million had been set aside for 1999 to 2000 to establish the commission and that there will be a provisional allocation of £11 million for 2000 to 2001 and 2001 to 2002. The real point is that the figures for the two later years may be adjusted in the light of experience within the overall comprehensive spending review settlement of the Department for Education and Employment.
I am not sure whether I shall satisfy my noble friend Lord Ashley or other noble Lords who asked for a breakdown of the £11 million. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, asked about discussions between departments. Of course we have discussed with the Treasury the funding for this new body, but the final decision on how much was needed was made after extensive consideration, and with other departments, by my own department. The estimates were made using the best information available at the time, including experience with comparable public bodies. Obviously, there is no public body which is completely comparable and so the exercise is difficult. It will be for the commission to determine how to allocate its resources once it has been established.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, that we would expect the commission to spend most of its budget on providing advice and information, conciliation, assistance to individuals, formal investigations and promotion and policy work, with central administrative costs being tightly controlled. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, rightly said that we want it to work without too much litigation. It will have succeeded if we have a minimal amount of litigation. We want practical, common sense approaches to ensure that discrimination against disabled people does not exist.
There is no reason to believe that the funding will not be adequate for the commission to undertake its enforcement work and promotional activities. However, it is always the case that when drawing up a budget for a new body we must rely on estimates. It is not possible to be as precise as the noble Lord, Lord Addington,
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