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Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. She has given a very full reply, which I am sure the House greatly appreciated. She mentioned advertising. I wonder whether she is able to answer the point I raised about objectionable advertisements. Without a provision along the lines of Amendment No. 5, is it possible under the Bill for the commission to take action against advertisements which plainly discriminate against disabled people, either under Clause 3 dealing with formal investigations or any other part of the Bill? Or do we have to wait before something is done about such advertisements?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, as I understand it, that matter is being examined by the task force and we shall have to wait. If I am wrong about that, I shall of course write to the noble Lord.

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In view of my remarks, I very much hope that my noble friend and others who have put their names to these amendments will feel able to withdraw them.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I greatly appreciate the trouble that my noble friend has taken in dealing with this batch of important amendments. I also appreciate the tone of her response. It was very helpful indeed.

I must confess that I am disappointed. In essence she explained what is good about the Bill. But that is not in dispute. We all know what is good about the Bill. It is a marvellous Bill, and my noble friend has been congratulated on it; warm congratulations have also gone to David Blunkett and his colleagues. However, we are seeking to improve the Bill--to get more money and to extend the Bill's powers. My noble friend did not really answer the queries that we put to her simply by explaining how good the Bill is, although we readily accept her explanation.

I understood my noble friend to say that more can be achieved by the commission under the existing procedures. She was over-egging the pudding. You cannot have more being achieved under existing procedures if, in the amendments, we seek more powers for the commission. It does not add up. I think that my noble friend became rather over-excited in reading her brief and was not quite up to the mark. However, I am prepared to overlook that.

My noble friend said that individuals will be helped in some cases and that there may be representation for complainants--I believe she implied that the amendment might mean that that was against their will. I shall check my remarks in Hansard but I believe that I specifically said that the consent of a complainant would be required. It is not possible to act against the interests of disabled people if their consent is required. So my noble friend was not quite on the ball in relation to that point.

In Committee, my noble friend raised the objection that the law would not allow this provision. Therefore, with the help of the Public Bill Office, I tabled another amendment in order to get round the legal problems and to meet her objections. And now she has come up with more objections of a different kind!

My noble friend should understand that we have a difficult problem trying to support her, as we do, as honest, innocent Labour Peers. We also have to voice these criticisms. It is not good enough for the Government to give these responses when we seek to improve the Bill.

We are glad that the task force is considering how the situation can be improved. However, if we wait for the task force to make recommendations we are abdicating parliamentary scrutiny. We are waiting for a task force which may not report for some considerable time. We should press on with these opportunities in the House of Lords and try to make changes to the Bill.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Before he decides what to do with the amendment, I, too, may have

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become over-excited at the Minister's brief, but I thought she undertook to examine one aspect. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I wish to save the noble Baroness going once more to the Dispatch Box. Despite the disappointment she gave us, she said that further consultation would take place. There was a categoric undertaking that it will take place. She spoke in good faith and wishes to help us. But she is still impressed by the lawyers in the department. Although they are good lawyers, I hope she will overcome their objections when it comes to Third Reading. I thank her again for the great consideration she gave to all our objections. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6 p.m.

Lord Morris of Manchester moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 2, line 7, at end insert--
("( ) The Commission shall have the power to set up regional offices as it deems necessary in pursuance of its duties under this Act.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, after consultation with my noble friend Lord Ashley, I rise to move this amendment. Some form of local and regional support on disability discrimination issues will be invaluable not only to disabled people themselves, but also to employers, service providers and indeed everyone with an interest in the commission's activities. A regional or local point of contact, staffed by people who know the characteristics of the local environment, may be of particular value to small businesses. For disabled people, improved access will be made possible, with the opportunity of home visits to people with severe disabilities or face-to-face contact at a commission office.

The disability rights commission has substantial duties. They are likely to include advice to disabled people on their legal rights; educating and informing the general public, employers and service providers about discrimination; and promoting good practice. These services will need to be fully accessible in every sense if the commission is properly to fulfil its duties and it will itself be subject to the duties set out in Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act. A single office based in one city will by no means be accessible to people living elsewhere in the country. Travel can be more expensive and is usually more difficult for disabled people; yet often face-to-face contact with them will be the only effective way of eliciting necessary information.

After the sharp rise in petrol prices announced on Tuesday in the Budget Statement, the expense of travel for disabled people is much higher now than it was when we discussed the case for local points of contact for them in Committee on 4th February.

As I have been told in several letters from disabled people since Tuesday, there is little point in discussing new rights for disabled people if their mobility is constricted by unaffordable travel costs. Thus I hope

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very much, first, that the relevance of Tuesday's decision to this legislation will be recognised as freely in Whitehall as it is among disabled people; and secondly, that the effect of the rise in costs may very soon be taken into account in an increase in the mobility allowance.

Nor is there much point in discussing new rights for disabled people who are being told by their local authorities that, if institutional care is cheaper than the cost of maintaining them in the community, they will be referred to institutions. That is social exclusion at its most cruel. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Hayman for the helpful parliamentary Answer she gave me on 1st March about the proposal of one local social services committee to adopt that policy.

In another recent case raised with me, a disabled man who now works part-time for £85 a week faces a cut of £75 a week in the local authority's support for maintaining him in the community. He has been told by the authority to accept the cut or return to institutional care. I quote from the letter about his case:

    "He is distraught about the prospect of going back into institutional care"
Here again, we have strong testimony to the need for local points of contact to inform disabled people of their legal rights and the help available to them.

We have been assured by Ministers that the disability rights commission has the power to set up regional offices, but there has been no assurance that extra funding can be expected if the commission decides to set up such offices. That could be of crucial importance to it in deciding whether or not to set up regional offices.

At the Committee stage, my noble friend the Minister of State said that racial equality councils,

    "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".--[Official Report, 4/2/99; col. 1622.]
She continued that therefore the funding comparison should be with the £11 million remainder for the Commission for Racial Equality, not the £15 million total funding.

However, if local voluntary organisations find themselves being used to fulfil statutory duties in relation to technical advice to business or legal advice to disabled people, then statutory funding should be available. This is extremely important to the organisations and we need to know today whether it will be available. If it is to be available, we also need to know whether it will have to come from the existing allocation of £11 million to the commission. I know that my noble friend will want to respond as helpfully as she can. I beg to move.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I support the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Morris, said, it is essential that there are offices in various parts of the country. I do not need to follow what he said because he gave a full explanation. The only objection I can see that the Government might have to the amendment is that it is in the wrong place. I wondered whether it should come in Schedule 1 instead of this part of the Bill. So far as

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I can see, the only place where any form of property is mentioned is in Clause 1(2). I wonder whether the Bill gives the power for the commission to own property in any event or to rent it. If not, we ought to put it in at the next stage of the Bill. But it is absolutely essential that there should be various offices in various parts of the country.

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