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Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, as many of the recommendations are simply that a matter be included in future civil rights legislation, are the Government planning a general civil rights Bill on areas other than education, to which the Minister referred, and if so, what would be its timing?
Further to my Question last Tuesday, has the Minister noticed that recommendation 7(4) on guide dogs and taxis recommends that Section 37 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 be put into force immediately?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, with regard to legislation involving a civil rights Bill, I cannot give an answer to the noble Lord because the Government have not yet been able to make any decisions. We must remember that we received the task force's report only on 13th December. Clearly that matter will have to be looked at. The Government are considering all the recommendations and I hope to be able to let the House know, as that consideration proceeds, what decision the Government have made on that question.
Lord Addington: My Lords, does the Minister agree, if we are talking about transport in particular, that it is absurd for a journey to be covered by only part of the regulation? With that in mind, will the Minister agree that a date for the access of all disabled people to train services should be introduced straightaway, as already exists for other types of transport, such as buses and coaches?
Baroness Blackstone: Yes, my Lords, I accept that point. There is incidentally also a strong case for ending the exclusion of transport from the DDA Part III rights currently in force. That will require primary legislation, but the Government will be consulting on that matter also.
Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I am delighted by the Government's decision to implement the task force's substantive recommendations on education and by Bob Niven's appointment as Chief Executive of the Disability Rights Commission. But can my noble friend say whether any of the other key recommendations will be implemented in the present Parliament and, in particular, those on transport, on extending the Disability Discrimination Act to the uniformed services and on reducing the employment threshold below 15 or, preferably, removing it altogether?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, clearly I cannot say whether those many recommendations will be implemented within this Parliament. Those that require legislation are unlikely to be implemented within this Parliament because the Queen's Speech has already been made and we have a full legislative programme. Where matters do not require legislation, the Government will try to make progress and go ahead as fast as possible. My noble friend raised the specific issue of the small employers' exemption. We had a number of debates about that matter in the Bill setting up the Disability Rights Commission. We agreed that the threshold should be reduced over time. We have already lowered it from 20 to 15, but we want to make progress in partnership with all interested parties, bringing business with us as we go.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, since we are told regularly by the Government Front Bench that the difference between task forces and non-departmental public bodies is that they are ephemeral, will the noble Baroness tell us when the task force to which she has just referred will be abolished?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the Millennium Wheel is designed to withstand a wind speed of 45 miles per hour/20 metres per second when it is in use. The Wheel will not be used at speeds above that. The maximum speed which it is designed to withstand when it is stationary is 94 miles per hour/42 metres per second.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am most grateful for that very helpful reply. However, is it not the case that there has been a good deal of disappointment about the condition of the Millennium Wheel and can the Minister now tell us when it is likely to go into full service?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I cannot say precisely when that will be. The decision is clearly a matter for British Airways and the operating companies. As they have indicated, they are replacing the clutch system which was found to be faulty before the Millennium, and they will bring it into service as rapidly as possible. However, that is not a matter for government.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the procedures that accompany the operation of the Wheel include an emergency exit. I fear that I am unable to explain to the House precisely how that operates, but both the technical advisers to the company and the Health and Safety Executive will insist that such emergency procedures exist.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, will the noble Lord tell us approximately how long it will take for the Wheel, with or without assistance from the wind, to make a complete revolution when it is fully loaded?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I believe that that is also probably an operational matter for the company concerned. It takes quite a long time--I should think of the order of half an hour. There are 32 carriages and it is quite a big wheel; therefore, I should say that it will take a fair amount of time.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the 45 miles per hour speed relates to a certain height of 10 metres. Clearly, the wind speed may well be higher at a higher point. However, the structure is designed to withstand a wind speed of 45 miles per hour in motion and 94 miles per hour when stationary at that height. The structures conform with all the standards that have been promulgated by the health and safety authorities on all steel structures.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Well, my Lords, I certainly do. I believe that it is an additional landmark and I am very supportive of it. Will the Minister tell us whether thought is being given to the Wheel continuing there in the long term, rather than just in the short term?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I concur completely with the noble Baroness in relation to the Wheel's visual impact. I believe that it is a magnificent addition to the Thames side and, indeed, to the view down Victoria Street. It sets off the rest of those historic buildings most effectively. Clearly, the case for its continuing operation is, in a sense, a matter for the company. However, I understand that the intention is that it will operate for at least five years, and that it is capable of lasting longer.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, in view of the possible mishaps to which the noble Lord has alluded, can the Minister say whether the liability of British Airways to its potential passengers is unlimited or whether it is restricted by some international convention?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I believe that that is very much a matter for British Airways, which, I am sure, has covered itself adequately in relation to insurance, as it has done on all safety issues. The Wheel is not an aeroplane and, therefore, so far as I am concerned, is not covered by international conventions.
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