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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I understand that the information will be discussed with the elderly person on the telephone. That will come through to the department which will then send it out. It may be able to give immediate guidance on whether someone obviously is or is not eligible. But the claim will come when the person has received a written statement of the agreed circumstances. That will constitute the claim. However, the first step is by telephone.

From October, pensioners need not go through that telephone stage if they do not wish to do so. Anyone currently on MIG will go through automatically. The steps for the savings credit will be strange because they are new. People will have had an opportunity for discussion on whether or not they may be eligible and to understand concepts such as income, capital and so on. I have no reason to think that it is not the most supportive way to reduce the hassle factor and extend the reach of what I think will be an important benefit.

The noble Baroness pressed me about staff training. Again, if she has any worries, I ask her to let me know. I have had no suggestion—but it is early days—that staff training is inadequate or incomplete. Nor have I any worries at present about the adequacy or otherwise of the computer system or the forms. We are working closely with Age Concern, Help the Aged, CAB and other organisations. We have a fairly long lead-in period between now and October. If problems begin to emerge, I trust that we will have in place the proper responses to overcome those difficulties. I hope that your Lordships will accept the regulations.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amendment) Regulations 2003

3.33 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 8th May be approved [20th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the stickers on these forms are rather more securely in place, I am happy to say.

I move these draft regulations which implement provisions of the European Community's Employment Directive 2000/78 so far as it deals with disability discrimination. The regulations would

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amend and extend provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 concerning discrimination against disabled people in the fields of work and vocational training. I emphasise that that is what the directive is concerned with. They also make consequential amendments to the Disability Rights Commission Act 1999 and other legislation.

As I explain what the regulations do, it may be helpful if I cross-refer back to the original text. Unlike the previous measure where there just two regulations, we have 30 here. Noble Lords may have to turn many pages. It will sound more technical than it need but I thought that that might be the most helpful approach.

While the draft regulations implement the disability provisions of a European directive, I remind the House that many of the main requirements were foreshadowed by the Disability Rights Task Force. The task force's work assisted the Government during negotiations on the directive. It helped us to identify those elements of the DDA, such as reasonable adjustments, that worked and needed to be retained; and those elements, such as current employment exemptions, which needed to change.

The draft regulations implement the majority of the disability provisions of the directive. I shall later state what is not included. If approved, they will bring into force those provisions in October 2004, more than two years in advance of the final date required by the directive. By going through this procedure, we are ensuring that a major swathe is securely banked in our legislative system by October 2004. It is good news in terms of employment and vocational training for disabled people.

I can also confirm that in my view the draft regulations are compatible with the UK's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The draft regulations make a number of significant and far-reaching changes to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 which will have a marked effect on society and disabled people. They repeal Section 7 of the DDA so as to end the current exemption of small employers. That is the biggest single change in the regulations. Over 1 million small employers will be brought into coverage of the DDA. Employees and people seeking work in those firms will be protected if they have, or have had, a disability. That is Regulation 7.

Secondly, the regulations bring within the scope of the DDA excluded occupations. Groups of occupations which have not so far enjoyed the protection of the DDA come in. We are covering many occupations such as the police, barristers and Scottish advocates, partners in business partnerships and persons who are not technically employees because they hold an office, including people whom the Government appoint to public offices. Regulation 5 deals with office holders. Regulation 6 deals with partnership. Regulation 8 deals with barristers and advocates. Regulation 24 relates to non-Home Department police forces, prison officers and fire-fighters. Regulation 25 relates to national police force. Regulation 27 deals with employment on board ships,

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aircraft or hovercraft. If any noble Lord wishes, I can give the cross-references back to the DDA legislation but I do not wish to complicate matters further.

Those are the two major changes: the extension of the DDA so that all employers are covered; and the extension to a range of occupations. The only significant exclusion now is the Armed Forces—an issue raised by your Lordships on several occasions.

The draft regulations make other significant changes. They outlaw direct discrimination, including prejudicial treatment of disabled people and most blanket bans. But employers need not employ anyone who is not competent, capable or available to perform the essential functions of the job in question after any necessary reasonable adjustment has been made. Obviously, we are not talking about the usual criticisms relating to blind bus drivers, and so forth. We are talking about people being able, competent and capable of performing the essential functions of the job.

Regulation 4 defines discrimination. Regulation 5 applies it to employers, contract workers and office holders. Later regulations apply it to other areas of employment and training. The regulations also end the current DDA approach that allows an employer to justify a failure to make a reasonable adjustment. Those are Regulations 4 and 5. What is new is that they bring practical work experience placements within the scope of the DDA. This is an important constituent, for example, of the New Deal for younger and older people—that is, practical work experience. Under Regulation 13, it now comes within the scope of the DDA.

Regulation 15 extends the DDA's protection to claims by former employees about discrimination arising from former employment. The point about that is that someone may be seeking to appeal against what in popular language we might consider to be constructive dismissal. Equally, if his employment has finished, it would be absurd if his right of appeal terminated with that employment. Therefore, there is a shadow effect that issues relating to previous employment may still be available and covered. Hence, we have Regulation 15.

The regulations ensure that advertisements that indicate an intention to discriminate against disabled people are unlawful. They also ensure that the DRC will be able to bring an action against those who place the advertisements for publication. That is the effect of Regulations 15 and 16. The regulations also introduce into the DDA specific provisions to ensure that harassment against disabled people is unlawful—again, this is new. Regulation 4 defines harassment and subsequent regulations dealing with specific types of occupation make it unlawful; for example, Regulation 5 applies to employment, contract workers and office holders.

The regulations also extend Part 2 of the DDA to "qualifications bodies"—namely, those which can confer a professional or trade qualification, such as the General Medical Council and the Law Society. In earlier discussions with, I believe, DRC, the phrase

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"qualifying bodies" was often used. We have now replaced that with "qualifications bodies" in order to make it more clear.

Given that description, I turn now to what the draft regulations do not do. The draft regulations are not a poor man's disability Bill. They are a further step towards meeting our manifesto commitment to extend rights and opportunities for disabled people. Because they are made under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972, they have the same status as primary legislation. They deliver the same outcomes, but they are securely bound in our law with effect from October 2004.

As I say, there are two important issues that the draft regulations do not cover. First, they do not implement the directive in so far as it applies to disability discrimination in occupational pensions schemes by trustees or managers of those schemes. It does not apply to occupational pensions. Adverse selection or even, in commercial terms, positive selection in terms of determining annuity rates would be an obvious example. We will lay separate regulations later this year on that issue after we have had further discussions with the Disability Rights Commission and the pensions industry. Both sides—the DRC and the pensions industry—accept that these are complicated measures which require a great deal of additional work. As far as I am aware, there appears to be no criticism of the Government for exempting that area of coverage—yet.

Secondly, Ministers in the Department for Education and Skills intend to bring forward separate proposals for regulations to implement any changes required by the directive in relation to Part 4 of the Disability Discrimination Act. These would be brought into place after the duties placed on educational institutions by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 have been fully implemented in September 2005. The second exclusion is those areas that overlap with and need to be contextualised by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001. Again, I think that your Lordships will understand the point of that.

In conclusion, the draft regulations introduce meaningful and worthwhile changes to the employment provisions of the DDA. Every small employer in the country will be covered. More than 1 million more employers will be included in the DDA. Seven million additional jobs and 600,000 disabled people in those jobs will be protected. This is a major advance in rights at work for disabled people.

The draft regulations are the next step towards meeting our manifesto commitment to extend rights and opportunities for disabled people. Further significant changes should flow from our draft disability Bill that we expect to publish later this year. As I said at the start, we have discussed the need to improve civil rights—above all, in the field of employment—for disabled people on many occasions. These draft regulations do precisely that. I hope that they will be warmly welcomed by the House today. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

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Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 8th May be approved [20th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for the helpful and wonderfully clear way in which she has introduced these regulations, and taken us through the detail. I welcome them enormously, although, as the noble Baroness has already said, I fear that they are not as comprehensive in scope as they need to be to implement the EU employment directive in full. I understand that the Disability Rights Commission says that the occupational pension scheme is a very complicated area. I welcome the assurance that the noble Baroness will try to sort something out in that respect. I look forward, with anticipation, to the DfES regulations.

The removal of the small employers exemption—Regulation 7—and extension of the DDA to a much wider range of employment situations by October 2004 is to be very strongly welcomed. I shall confine my remarks to two areas that have been of particular interest to me—namely, the qualifications bodies and arrangements for disabled people in work placement schemes.

I am delighted to see that the regulations extend the coverage to qualifications bodies. Disabled students may currently be denied the opportunity to undertake a particular course of study by education institutions because of hurdles erected by some professional bodies. That is quite wrong, as the noble Baroness said. It is absolutely right that these qualification bodies should be required to facilitate opportunities for disabled students and to justify objectively any competence standards they may set. The provisions are complex and would almost warrant their own code of practice as SKILL—the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, of which I am president—proposed in its response to the first draft of the regulations. I believe that I saw the noble Baroness almost nodding her head in agreement at the complication of the matter.

The wide definition of "qualifications body" seems to suggest that examining boards will be covered by the provisions when awarding a GCSE in maths, for example, which is an essential qualification for so many different professions, particularly teaching. Can the Minister confirm that this is the case? I should like to ask a further question for clarification on the extremely welcome extension of the DDA to disabled people on work placements. Can the Minister explain why new Sections 14C and 14D of the DDA specify that the work placement must be part of a vocational training scheme to be covered by the DDA? The Disability Rights Commission believes this to be too narrow an interpretation of the directive which applies to occupation and vocational training in the broadest sense.

I am concerned that the wording used in the regulations would exclude disabled people undertaking work experience placements, as part of

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the New Deal, from the protection of the DDA. Can the Minister explain why the provisions have been cast so narrowly and clarify what types of vocational training programmes will be covered? For example, would a two-week placement as part of a life skills course for people with learning disabilities be included in the provision? The Minister will remember that this House previously expressed the view that all work placements should be covered by the DDA—indeed, we passed an amendment to that effect last year to the Disability Discrimination (Amendment) Bill, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke.

In conclusion, in many respects these regulations cannot come soon enough, but there remain the one or two issues that the noble Baroness mentioned in relation to employment protection and equal career opportunities which I look forward to being satisfactorily addressed in the near future. In the mean time, I warmly welcome the regulations.


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