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Lord Rix: My Lords, in speaking to these amendments, particularly Amendment No. 17, to which my name is attached, I also support the view that the disability rights commission should have a role in assisting disabled people to bring cases under the Human Rights Act. Broadly, under the DDA, the prohibition against discrimination in the provision of goods, services and facilities, which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, does not apply to education. However, under Article 2 of the first protocol of the Human Rights Convention, one could argue that a disabled pupil has been discriminated against and his or her right to education taken away.

Another example is that, if people with learning disabilities are sterilised, it could be argued that their right to family life has been taken away. It is therefore right and proper for the disability rights commission to support individuals in such cases, especially if that might mean that the rights of disabled people are subsequently strengthened or clarified.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, grouped with Amendment No. 2 is my Amendment No. 16 which I tabled at the request of the Law Society of Scotland. The amendment is designed to clarify the extent of Clause 6 which applies to proceedings under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and proceedings where an

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individual who has a disability relies on a matter relating to that disability. It makes no reference to the Scotland Act 1998 or the Human Rights Act 1998.

The amendment is designed to probe the extent of the application of Clause 6. Discrimination issues are reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament under the Scotland Act 1998 and could arise in terms of the Human Rights Act 1998 in such a way as to reduce the effect of Scottish legislation. Will Clause 6 cover such issues, or is it limited in its effect?

Lord Addington: My Lords, the idea that human rights should not be linked in a direct way with the disability rights commission is basically absurd for the reasons we have heard. The two are bound to connect. If we believe in joined-up government, indeed vaguely logical government, the two must be connected.

Certain parts of our legislation have for various reasons ignored aspects of the lives of disabled people. Education is one and some aspects of medical practice are another.

Amendment No. 17 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, is possibly the one that would have the best chance of succeeding. However, the amendments try to correct the situation. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, pointed out, if something is not mentioned in the context, it is ignored. Surely we must bring the most fundamental piece of legislation on to the face of the Bill if we want a provision that covers the area fundamentally and thoroughly. Something like the amendment must be on the face of the Bill to give it a chance of having real coverage.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I do not know whether the Minister is about to make the reply suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, that the Government can safely afford to rely on regulation. If so, the House would find that reply a great deal more persuasive were the Minister to say that he shares the view that this House is, as it affirmed on 20th October 1994, free to vote on subordinate legislation. If he does not reaffirm that, then the reassurance he would give by offering regulations would be limited.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I strongly sympathise with the amendments put down by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley. Perhaps I may make a suggestion pre-empting what the Minister may say. I suspect that he will not accept the amendments. If so, the point raised by my noble friend Lord Renton applies, that if one mentions one Act in a piece of legislation, by definition that subordinates all others. I wonder whether the words "all relevant" legislation would do: in other words, all subsequent Acts of Parliament that impact on people with disabilities in any way, including the Human Rights Act, should be kept under review by the commission. It seems to me that one of its primary acts will be to oversee and review the Disability Discrimination Act. However, there are many other Acts of Parliament which will impact on and have an effect on people with disabilities. I suggest the words

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"all relevant Acts of Parliament"; that is, subsequent Acts. I wonder whether that would be considered by the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Ashley.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to return to the debate on the amendments which seek to place references to the Human Rights Act on the face of the Bill. It gives me a further opportunity to clarify in more detail the Government's intentions. I hope that in so doing I can reassure noble Lords on the important issues that they have raised today.

The first of the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Ashley relates to Clause 2 and seeks to make provision on the face of the Bill for the disability rights commission to have a duty to keep under review those parts of the Human Rights Act which it deems applicable to the elimination of discrimination against disabled people. The European Convention on Human Rights confers rights on all individuals and the Human Rights Act covers a wide range of issues which go well beyond the scope of the commission's primary duties. It is one of this Government's important policies that British citizens should be able to secure rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights in British courts and to bring those rights home to all citizens. I can assure noble Lords that we will not be backward in our duty of watching carefully and in the round the impact the Human Rights Act has.

While the Government remain to be convinced of the case for a human rights commission, they have not ruled out establishing one in future. My right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons announced in another place before Christmas that a joint parliamentary committee on human rights would be set up with a range of functions relating to human rights. It is envisaged that these will include conducting an inquiry into whether there is a need for a human rights commission to monitor the workings of the Human Rights Act. It may also consider the conduct of inquiries into general human rights issues in the UK. The parliamentary committee will start work later this year. Given the continuing deliberations on the possibility of a human rights commission, we believe it would be wrong to pre-empt the outcome of these deliberations and commit the disability rights commission to a specific duty which may turn out to be inappropriate in the longer term and even, as proposed today, might duplicate the role of a joint parliamentary committee.

Moreover, the Government have recognised that there will be a range of legislation in which the commission may wish to have an interest from time to time, or have a continuing interest, on which it may wish to offer the Government advice. As I made clear in Committee, the Bill has been drafted to give the commission wide-ranging powers to advise the Government on any aspect of the law, or proposed changes to the law, for any purpose connected with the elimination of discrimination and the performance of its other functions. This extends to all legislation applying to England, Scotland and Wales.

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Therefore the commission will be free to make full use of its powers and advise the Government on the Human Rights Act if it considers it relevant to do so. But we also recognise that this will be just one of a number of pieces of legislation about which the commission may choose to give advice. For example, with the inclusion of the non-discrimination provision in Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam it would be surprising if the commission did not take an interest in any directives emanating from this provision; or, for that matter, in a number of older pieces of legislation such as health and safety, or the building regulations, which have a significant impact on disabled people's lives. We do not believe it is right, therefore, to make provision on the face of the Bill for the commission to have a specific duty to keep under review the workings of the Human Rights Act. To do so would place an emphasis on that legislation above all others which may be of equal or more concern to the commission and disabled people.

Lord Renton: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. I wonder whether he realises that the quite detailed answer he has given does not deal with the points raised so far in favour of the first amendment in the group, Amendment No. 2. The presence in the Bill of a duty to consider the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 singled out means that the commission will not be obliged to consider other statutes unless required to do so. Therefore, even if the Minister does not accept this amendment he must at Third Reading arrange for an amendment to be tabled and for other relevant legislation. It must be done.

4 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I shall reflect on the comments of the noble Lord. However, the provision that allows the commission to advise the Government on legislation will also allow it to advise on all issues relating to the equalisation of opportunities. I refer noble Lords to Clause 2(3)(a) which allows the commission,

    "to make proposals or give other advice to any Minister of the Crown as to any aspect of the law or a proposed change to the law".
While I understand the point that the noble Lord raises, from the remarks that I have made it would be very strange if the commission when established did not consider both the Human Rights Act and other legislation that was applicable to the work of the commission.

I turn to the other amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Ashley. My noble friend is correct to state, as he did at Committee stage, that the Disability Rights Task Force considered the involvement of the commission in relation to providing assistance in cases involving the Human Rights Act. We recognise that, in the absence of a human rights commission or similar body, the DRC may be well placed to provide this assistance. That is why in the White Paper published for consultation last summer we proposed that the commission should have the power to assist individuals under the Human Rights Act in Article 14 cases where

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discrimination prevented them from enjoying the other rights provided for in the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Bill as drafted would allow the DRC some scope to act in assisting disabled people to secure their rights under the Human Rights Act. That Act creates a new form of action specifically based on vindicating convention rights. Under Section 7 of the Human Rights Act individuals can also rely on convention rights in any legal proceedings, not only those brought under the Human Rights Act. Therefore, if a disabled person brings an action under the Disability Discrimination Act which raises breaches of convention rights the commission can assist by virtue of Clause 6(1)(a). Furthermore, we have included a regulation-making power in the Bill allowing the Secretary of State to extend the range of legal proceedings in which the commission can assist individuals beyond those that can arise in the context of Part II or Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act. I reassure noble Lords of our firm commitment to consider the inclusion in these regulations of Section 7 of the Human Rights Act. This commitment is clearly set out in the Explanatory Notes that accompany the Bill and were published with it. However, we strongly believe that a regulation-making power in the Bill is the right way forward. As I said at committee stage, the relevant provisions of the Human Rights Act are not expected to come into force before the year 2000.

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