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Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I am very grateful for the comprehensive way in which my noble friend has dealt with these amendments. I appreciate the trouble she has taken. She has certainly devoted a great deal of time and trouble to the matter. I wish to make just a few points. The words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, have been quoted in the course of the debate, both from the Back-Benches and the Front-Bench. I am very glad to see that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, is with us today. I know that noble Lords will wish to congratulate her on her elevation to the Privy Council today.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, notwithstanding the words that have been quoted, I wish to say a few words to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. First, I appreciate her support for the amendment. I do not

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know about her reservations. She has called for a survey. I think a survey is irrelevant because small employers should be under no illusions about the requirements of the Act as it would be amended if this amendment were accepted.

My noble friend talked about research. Again, research is helpful, but I do not really think that research is basically relevant to what is a quite simple proposition. My noble friend wondered whether small firms would face the problems of working by trial and error. I do not know where the trial and error comes into it. With the legislation as proposed by the amendment, if we ask small firms simply not to discriminate and only to do reasonable things, I cannot see any great problem. It is a matter of common sense. To build up this into a great problem is something I find very difficult. All the employers I have been in touch with know exactly what is required of their firms and how to deal with the workforce.

My noble friend said that small firms have fears of small mistakes being very costly. That is simply irrelevant. No very costly imposition can be made on small firms because the Act says, "only reasonable accommodation." So by definition very great costs will not be imposed on them.

Nevertheless, my noble friend is clearly willing and anxious to help. I warmly appreciate that. I shall therefore seek to withdraw my amendment. I look forward to further discussions on the matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 26 not moved.]

Schedule 1 [Constitution etc.]:

Lord Ashley of Stoke had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 27:

Page 10, leave out lines 16 and 17.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 28. Amendment No. 27 is a manuscript amendment. The reason for that is that I made a mistake when I originally tabled the amendments. The amendments provided that the first appointment of the chairman of the commission should be a disabled person. The manuscript amendment says that the chairman of the commission shall be a disabled person.

The Deputy Speaker: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I think Amendment No. 28A is the manuscript amendment. We are now dealing with Amendment No. 27.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I do not have a copy of any manuscript amendment at all.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I moved the amendment in error. I should have moved manuscript Amendment No. 28A.

The Deputy Speaker: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 are not moved.

[Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 not moved.]

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8 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke moved manuscript Amendment No. 28A:

Page 10, line 17, at end insert--
("( ) The Chairman of the Commission shall be a disabled person.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I was attempting to explain that I made an error in tabling the original amendment, Amendment No. 28, which stated:

    "The person first appointed as Chairman of the Commission shall be a disabled person".
For the information of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and other noble Lords the manuscript amendment states simply:

    "The Chairman of the Commission shall be a disabled person".
The object is to avoid the word "first" in relation to the chairman of the commission and indicate that every chairman shall be disabled. That is the requirement of the manuscript amendment.

Undoubtedly, chairman of the commission is a key post. That person will be the commission's leader and figurehead. He or she will have a major influence on how the commission does its work in combating discrimination and implementing equal opportunities for disabled people.

By appointing a disabled person, the Government will send a clear signal to the public; whereas appointing a non-disabled chair will send the message that no suitably qualified disabled candidate can be found in the whole of England, Scotland and Wales, which is a preposterous notion. It is a sad comment on society that this amendment is required, but it is essential. We need time before it can safely be presumed that no nonsensical appointments will be made to the commission or elsewhere.

The unique experience of a disabled person cannot be replicated by a non-disabled person. It confers a striking advantage for this post. The trouble with Amendment No. 30 in the name of my noble friend the Minister is that it makes clear the Government's feeling that a non-disabled person would be acceptable. Otherwise, she would support my manuscript amendment. If we are to be deterred from making special provision because it would give the wrong impression, the Government should logically be opposed to the majority of members of the commission being disabled. Yet the Government accept that.

This amendment is of crucial importance. I cannot conceive of the chairman of the commission not being disabled. It is a unique post dealing with unique problems. I hope that the Government will find themselves able to accept this amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I have no bone to pick on this matter with the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke. However, I hope that a precedent is not being set for us to receive, literally in our seats, a manuscript amendment. On this occasion it is a simple proposal and it has almost the same meaning as the original amendment; so there is very little change. However, in

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the spirit of wanting to be helpful and accept the proposal at this stage, I hope that this incident will not be repeated.

I have tabled three amendments to this schedule, Amendments Nos. 29, 31 and 32. My Amendment No. 29 seeks that any appointed commissioner shall not hold office for more than a continuous period of 10 years. That does not mean that he or she may not be re-appointed at another time, but it limits any continuous period of office to 10 years.

Amendment No. 31 provides that chairmen and deputy chairmen should serve for a period of five years only. Amendment No. 32 seeks to remove the powers of the Secretary of State to make the first appointment of the chief executive.

I suspect that this body will be like many others: it will be set up in shadow form; the chairman will be appointed fairly soon; and deputy chairmen and commissioners will start to be appointed. It seems appropriate that the chairman and the staff who will be gathered around him or her should be empowered to appoint the chief executive. They will ultimately be given that job; therefore there seems to be no reason whatsoever for the Secretary of State to appoint in the first instance. My amendments are to be taken in conjunction with the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke.

Lord Addington: My Lords, one point has occurred to me about the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. It refers to,

    "a person who has had a disability".
The definition I had hitherto used for disability was that it was a condition that one did not get over. It was there for ever. Then I suddenly realised that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, now has a lesser degree of disability. Are we to congratulate him on his appointment?

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I intended to raise the same point--though not in relation to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, because I am sure the Minister will not tell us who is likely to be appointed. But every now and again people have a skiing accident or an accident playing football. They can be in a wheelchair for one, two or possibly three weeks. They have then had a disability. It can apply to almost anyone. It is said that at least one in six of us spends at least some time in a wheelchair.

I strongly support the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, that the chairman of the commission should be a person who has a disability. I also strongly support the idea that the chairman should not hold that post for more than 10 years, as that could lead to staleness. But as a fallback position I would accept the Minister's Amendment No. 30, provided that at Third Reading she is prepared to remove the phrase,

    "or a person who has had a disability".
I do not believe that such a provision would work.

Lord Rix: My Lords, I am in a state of confusion. It seems to me that Amendment No. 30, to be moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, in some ways

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contravenes the manuscript amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley; yet they are grouped together. It makes it very difficult for some of us to speak to one or the other.

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