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Baroness Gould of Potternewton: Perhaps I may intervene briefly. Local authorities receive small grants in order to enable them to make polling stations accessible. The question is whether they ever use those grants. The Scope survey that was referred to indicated that only 6 per cent. of polling stations are fully accessible. That is absolutely disgraceful considering that money is available.

Other matters need to be mentioned which do not cost anything. For instance, within a polling station the polling booth is often too high for wheelchair users. Also, the ballot box is often placed on a table, presumably so that able-bodied people will not have to bend down, but it does not help anyone who is in a wheelchair and cannot reach it.

On the question of the postal vote, I agree with the noble Baroness. It is not an alternative; it should be an available option. The right to vote in person is fundamental. The postal vote is complex. There is a problem over timing and many people find out about it much too late. In addition, an examination is needed of the electoral registration process itself, which is complicated. If political parties want people to be involved in the political process, they should examine the way in which they communicate their policies.

A Home Office committee is examining various aspects of the electoral process. I hope that the commission will be able to ensure that when its work is complete and legislation is passed, which will ultimately happen, all these points are taken into account in that legislation.

Baroness Blackstone: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this issue. The entitlement to vote is at the heart of our democracy. At the same time I wish to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that I do not believe this matter need take up the time of the commission.

It is the case that some disabled people feel effectively almost prevented from exercising their right to vote as they are unable to gain access to a polling station. The Government are committed to helping disabled people to exercise their right to vote and to do so in person if that is their choice. It is important that we should try to make that choice available to as many people as possible. Polling stations are public facilities. They are covered by the goods and services provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act. The decision as to which building to select for a polling station is a matter for the relevant local authority. However, the Home Office provides guidance to returning officers on issues that they ought to consider when making that decision and suggesting how access to a polling station might be assessed.

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I confirm the remarks of my noble friend Lady Gould. The Home Office makes substantial grants available to returning officers to help them provide auxiliary aids and services in the form of temporary ramps and accessible polling booths. Further consolidated and enhanced guidance, including advice on national access standards, will be issued to all returning officers shortly. I very much hope that they will take that guidance on board, and indeed my noble friend's remarks.

Noble Lords may also be aware that the Government's working party on electoral procedures has recommended to the Home Secretary the need to introduce legislation proposing changes to provide for the introduction of polling aids for disabled people to assist voting in person at polling stations. The working party will continue to consider the question of access for disabled people to electoral services of all kinds, including the possibility of introducing in the future pilot schemes to test the effect for all electors of alternative electoral procedures. These pilots may include: voting anywhere in an electoral area; mobile polling; early voting; all-postal ballots; and electronic voting. All of those may well have considerable benefits for those electors who are disabled and everyone else.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Formal investigations]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 7:


Page 2, line 14, leave out ("decide to").

The noble Baroness said: I rise to advocate the deletion of "decide to". In doing so I hope that I may qualify for a plain English award. My argument is that those words are otiose. If the commission decides to conduct a formal investigation it does not need to decide to do so; it will do it. Therefore, these words are superfluous. I hope that parliamentary counsel will allow the Minister also to agree that they are superfluous. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: Parliamentary counsel has not allowed or advised me to say that this amendment can be accepted. However, I am content to take the amendment away to see whether we can accommodate the suggestion of the noble Baroness.

Baroness Blatch: I am very grateful to the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Non-discrimination notices]:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Skelmersdale): I must advise the Committee that if Amendment No. 8 is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 9 to 11 inclusive.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 8:


Page 2, line 43, leave out from beginning to ("provisions") in line 2 on page 3 and insert ("The notice may include").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 8 and speak also to Amendment No. 12. I leave others to speak to Amendments Nos. 9 to 11. As drafted, the clause provides that certain items may be included

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in regulations from the Secretary of State on the content of non-discrimination notices. My amendments aim to bring those items that may be included into the Bill rather than leave them to secondary legislation. The Bill sets out those matters in any case, but leaves them to secondary legislation. Presumably, it is accepted by the Government, if I read it correctly, that these are valid items for inclusion in a non-discrimination notice. In that case, why not include them in the Bill? If one looks at sub-section (4) one sees:


    "(a) to take steps with a view to avoiding the commission by [the individual] of unlawful acts and to inform the Commission that he has taken such steps;


    (b) to inform the Commission of any other steps which he needs to take in order to comply with the notice ...


    (c) to give the Commission any other information for the purpose of verifying that the notice has been complied with; and


    (d) to take steps with a view to making available to other persons any information about the notice or the things [required] to be done".
That is pretty comprehensive and allows almost anything to do with the effective enforcement of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. I beg to move the amendment.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: I rise to speak to Amendments Nos. 9 to 11. Their purpose is to move the powers that the Secretary of State may give to the commission directly onto the statute rather than by regulation which is the current intention of the Bill. We have rehearsed these arguments in the context of a different amendment. I do not know whether we are going over similar ground. I believe that the value of this commission will be considerably enhanced if it has statutory powers to prescribe changes. This is particularly the case if in addition a timetable is prescribed.

The unfortunate experience of other commissions illustrates this difficulty. A non-discrimination notice issued by the CRE or the EOC cannot prescribe particular changes in practice although both commissions have asked for this power. It may well be that our advisers have reached different conclusions on this matter. I shall be glad to hear from my noble friend if that is the case. If both of these established commissions have asked for this power it is a very significant argument in favour of giving it to this commission. It is notable that the Fair Employment Commission uses these powers to co-operate with business. I emphasise the co-operative aspect.

These powers will be especially important as structural barriers place disabled people at a very big disadvantage. It would be far more effective if the commission specified that a service provider must instal a ramp or, say, an induction loop rather than merely promote general non-discriminatory attitudes within an organisation. Business will find it very helpful if the commission has the power to tell it exactly what should be done to avoid discrimination and to work within the

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law rather than to wait for a court decision. Given the value of this power to all interested parties it would be very helpful if the Minister could accept the amendment.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: I agree that these amendments are tremendously important, and I agree with all that the noble Lord has said.

Lord Addington: When it comes to action to help avoid discrimination and to help the disabled this amendment should already have been included in the Bill. It gives power to tell organisations what they should do. This is not guidance and people should not have to struggle with it. If something like this can be included in the Bill we can carry out the age-old task in this House of ensuring that the lawyers do not have another case. This is what we should be about here. If we can do something along these lines it should be done. It may well be that the noble Lord's amendment is not perfect, but I believe I know him well enough by now to appreciate that if he is told that there is a better form of words he will readily accept them. We should put something in the Bill and become proactive. If we merely say, "Thou shalt not", it will take a very long time to establish what thou shalt do. Let us find the most direct and positive way forward in the hope that we can discover what can be done, and do it quickly.


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