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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I wish to say at the outset that the intention is to establish offices in each of England, Scotland and Wales and that this Bill, as drafted, allows the commission to set up further offices or to make what other arrangements it feels would be appropriate to carry out its work at a regional or local level. Once again, there is no reason why the commission should not set up regional offices if it thinks it appropriate.

The matter of regional offices was considered by the task force. What we propose very much reflects its recommendations. I feel it would be right, given the comments made today and at Committee stage, to say a little more about the task force's thinking and the conclusions it reached. I believe it is right that we keep faith with its recommendations on the matter since those recommendations benefited from a detailed analysis of the issues involved and from a range of individuals, members of the task force, who will be key stakeholders.

First, there is the important question of accessibility. I endorse very much what has been said about it. It is clear from the comments made in Committee and today that noble Lords feel that accessibility for disabled people is of paramount importance. I could not agree more. Let us examine what the task force recommended. It concluded that regional offices were not necessarily the answer. Three or four regional offices, in addition to the main central ones in each country, would not make the commission considerably more accessible to many disabled people. For some, other factors would be relevant such as their mobility and the accessibility of public transport. The task force recognised that accessibility could be achieved in other ways. Those ways included links with local organisations. Organisations representing disabled people are prevalent locally and also extremely effective. I understand for example that there are 12 independent living centres, over 400 local societies of MENCAP and some 110 local offices of the disability information and advice line. We need to think about not just local disability networks. Local business and service organisations and networks also meet local needs. There are 60 business links, 74 TECs, nearly 1,000 employment service offices and approaching 700 disability employment advisers. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

There is certainly evidence that disabled people who seek advice and support will usually contact one source rather than a wide variety of different agencies. Most of those sources are local, such as jobcentres and medical services. Therefore, while the commission should be able to communicate directly with disabled people, it is only common sense that it works with existing

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networks. It would be madness not to do so. To seek to replace them may reduce accessibility rather than enhance it.

We must also consider the ability of the commission to go to the client. I cannot overstate the vital role that visiting commission officers and outreach workers can play. One may have the impression that an officer based at the main site responds to a call 200 miles away when he is able. But who is to say that these officers must be based permanently in a central office? Many people work from home these days and have the facilities to keep in close contact with a central office through e-mail, telephone, fax and so on. The commission could decide to employ officers who themselves were located around the country, had a feel for the locality and would be able to respond more quickly to local needs than a regional office. With modern day technology there is no reason why a central telephone number cannot be used to direct a caller to a local adviser where that will be helpful. Noble Lords will recognise the importance of modern technological methods of communication, particularly for disabled people. Accessing the outside world from home, not just by telephone but through the Internet and other methods, is a feature of how many people, disabled and non-disabled, operate in this day and age.

I turn to the question of funding. Some noble Lords have suggested that the Government have not considered the costs of establishing regional offices when determining the commission's initial budget. I say to my noble friend that I believe the Government have provided the commission with a realistic budget. We have no reason to suppose that that budget will not be adequate to meet the many and various functions of the commission, including providing access for people on a local basis in whatever form appears to be the most sensible. I hope that my noble friend will accept that intention. We shall want to monitor the funding of the commission. If a good case is made for additional funding the Government will be sympathetic to that.

In considering how to allocate the budget with which the commission will be provided I am sure that it will take as its highest priority what best meets the needs of disabled people and the needs of other stakeholders. The commission must be allowed discretion in this matter that is built on actual experience. The commission will need to consider a variety of mechanisms, including whether and how to use regional offices, to make sure that it truly is accessible. I stress that the Government are sympathetic to that objective. But I believe that the commission is best placed to decide what kinds of mechanisms are likely to be most effective. Accessibility is achieved by communication in all its forms, not necessarily by the buildings that people may occupy. I do not believe that we shall best serve the needs of disabled people if we pre-judge today that one way is necessarily better than another. In view of all these considerations I very much hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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6.15 p.m.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, with other noble Lords I shall reflect on what my noble friend has said in reply. My experience as a Minister persuaded me that it is far easier to improve legislation during the parliamentary proceedings than it is when it has become law. This is why we should look again, before the Bill leaves your Lordships' House, at the very important issue of providing access for disabled people as near as possible to where they live. The voluntary sector ought not to be asked to carry heavy costs in filling gaps in statutory provision. The generality of disabled people expect the disability rights commission to fund the duties it should properly discharge. To allow further time to consider the possibility of another amendment, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 [Formal investigations]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 7:

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

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I became quite excited about this amendment. I thought that I had almost convinced the noble Baroness that this was a good point. I am grateful to her for having written to me with an explanation as to why my amendment cannot be accepted. However, I again take issue with the officials who advise the noble Baroness. Two situations are referred to in the letter. In the first case the commission itself decides to conduct an investigation; in the second case the commission is directed to do so by the Secretary of State. That is absolutely clear from the words of Clause 3.

We return to "may" and "shall" which here have very real relevance. If my amendment were accepted the clause would provide:

    "(1) The Commission may conduct a formal investigation for any purpose connected with the performance of its duties".
Subsection (2) provides:

    "The Commission shall"--
in other words, it has no choice in the matter--

    "conduct a formal investigation if directed to do so by the Secretary of State for any such purpose".
I believe that that is eminently clear. If the commission conducts a formal investigation it does so because it has decided to do so, not for any other reason. Therefore, I still believe that these words are otiose. I beg to move.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, I hope that the Government will accept this amendment for the reason given by the noble Baroness. The important point is to empower the commission to conduct an investigation. It cannot do that unless it decides to do so. Therefore, it is unnecessary to say that it may decide to conduct a formal investigation.

Moreover, the drafting gives scope for an admittedly far-fetched argument that the statute carefully limits its power to deciding to conduct a formal investigation. I said that that is far-fetched, but it is the type of argument which throughout the

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legislation we have had this Session parliamentary counsel take pains to guard against, almost always by putting in extra provisions. The amendment has the great advantage of removing unnecessary words.

If the commission may decide to conduct a formal investigation, why should not subsection (2) state:

    "The Commission shall conduct a formal investigation if the Secretary of State decides to direct it to do so for any such purpose"?
But that is not done; there is no reason to do it. What matters is the direction that is given and not the decision to give the direction because the direction cannot be given unless there is an anterior decision by the Secretary of State. That applies just as much to subsection (1).

It may be that the draftsman has been led astray by the terms of subsection (3), that:

    "The Commission may at any time decide to stop or to suspend the conduct ... but any such decision requires the approval of the Secretary of State".
That can perfectly easily and economically be re-drafted to fit in with subsection (1) as amended, as desired by the noble Baroness.

The drafting amendment may seem unimportant compared with the important rights which are vouched safe by the Bill to those who command the compassion and activity of the legislature. That is not so. Every unnecessary word we put into a statute inflates it. In 1975, the Renton Committee on the preparation of legislation--and I am pleased to see the noble Lord in his place--drew attention to the prolixity and over elaboration in the statute book and protested against it. The statute book then consisted of three volumes of public and general Acts. Ten years later, in spite of everything the Renton Committee said, it consisted of five volumes of public and general Acts. There were fewer statutes contained in those volumes.

The format was then enlarged to bring the number back to three, with quite a prolixity, but within a few years there were again five volumes now in the larger format. All that is very costly at every stage of a Bill and it is costly to those who have to buy the statute books. I should be most surprised if we do not have at least six volumes of public and general Acts after this Session, so anything we can do to eliminate even two words is worth while. It is still more worth while as a step towards at last paring down the statute book and freeing it from unnecessary prolixity. I hope that the Government will look favourably on the amendment.

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