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The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 6, I shall speak also to the other amendments in the group which I have tabled. I shall not speak to all the amendments in the group as I know that other noble Lords will wish to speak to the amendments which they have tabled. The group brings together all the amendments relating to disability. It should enable the Committee to have a focused debate on the disability issues in the Bill as many of the amendments read across to each other.
As a general point, the civil rights of people with disabilities stand four square with the civil rights of every other group in society. If we are to achieve equality in society, it is good that the civil rights of disabled people are regarded and achieved as part of the mainstream civil rights argument and not treated as somehow different in concept. Clause 3, "Fundamental duty", sets out these aspirations very well, and Clause 8, "Equality and diversity", Clause 9, "Human rights" and Clause 11, "Communities", are all statements of the mainstream argument.
However, we know that the issue of disability is different and presents particular problemssuch as physical access and the accessibility of information which come under the general heading of "reasonable adjustment". These are civil rights but they need a distinctly different approach. This is recognised in the Bill under Clauses 10 and 20 and Part 5 of Schedule 1.
As I have said, the amendments deal with that different approach. They are intended to improve the Bill by probing the Government's intentions. The amendments to Clauses 10, 11 and 20, in particular, suggest a different approach and, perhaps, a complete redrafting of Clause 11.
Amendment No. 6 suggests that one commissioner to represent disabled people's interests is not sufficient. Equality issues are not straightforward and one commissioner cannot be expected to champion them all. Having more than one commissioner would allow for a wider range of experience associated with disability. This would contribute to the diversity and depth of understanding of equality which the CEHR seeks to achieve.
We must consider the diversity of disability. For example, the needs and problems of the wheelchair user are different from those of the visually impaired; which are different again from the hearing impaired; which are different again from the learning disabled. I
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have mentioned only four disabilities, but there are many kinds of impairment. I have referred already to the problems of physical access, and accessibility to formats of information for the visually impaired, the hearing impaired and the learning disabled.
I am sure that the Government will point out that under the Bill a disability committee will be established to deal with this, and they may be right. But perhaps the Minister will explain how the Government expect the CEHR to deal with the diversity of requirements resulting from different impairments with only one commissioner who is disabled.
Amendment No. 50 deals with the vexed question of the review of the life of the Disability Committee. Disabled people began to achieve civil rights only 10 years ago with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. It was only in 1997 that the Disability Rights Commission was established to oversee the monitoring of disability discrimination and subsequent legislation. Thus the implementation of civil rights for disabled people is quite young compared to other anti-discrimination legislation.
As I said in regard to Amendment No. 6, disability discrimination has inherent complexities. Its elimination will require extensive input from disabled people on how it can be achieved. This approach has been acknowledged and this Government and previous ones have sought to include disabled people in their current and ongoing policy work.
The British Council of Disabled People has pointed out that the proposed potential five-year life of the Disability Committee does not give sufficient guarantee to ensure that its members can strategically plan for the inclusion of disabled people in society. After all, the Government have allocated 20 years for this to happen. By that logic, the committee should certainly run for longer than five years.
Disabled people expect that a very important part of the committee's remit will be to promote and oversee the spirit of the report Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People and its implementation. I should say in passing that that is an absolutely first-class report.
It has taken from 1995 to 2005 to get the anti-discrimination legislation into the right form. The Disabled Rights Commission has been a great success and I feel that the arbitrary potential five-year time limit on the life of the Disability Committee is too short.
When organisations or functions within organisations merge, it often leads to savings. As such, there is concern in the disability community that merging three commissions and extending the new commission's remit to cover other equality issues may adversely affect the budget allocated for necessary work on the promotion of disability equality. The amendment would ensure that the Disability Committee will start with at least the same
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resources as those of the DRC when it is wound up. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us that assurance.
The amendments I shall talk to next deal with the most central concern in the Billthe treatment of disability within the Bill. These linked amendments are Clause 10 stand part, Amendments Nos. 94, 95, 97 and 98 to Clause 11, and Clause 20 stand part. The purpose of the amendments is to remove Clauses 10 and 20 and put disability into the mainstream of the Clause 11 provisions on good relations in communities. They would further ensure that Clause 11 preserves and reflects the distinctive aspects of disability equality and does not define groups such as black and minority ethnic disabled people as a sub-class, which is an unfortunate phrase.
The Bill and the future CEHR need to reflect what is distinctive and what is generic about disability equality. They also need to reflect the key challenges ahead for disability equality, such as improving relations between disabled and non-disabled people so that disabled people feel safe and have a real sense of belonging in their community. There is a view that it would be better to include disabled people and their situation in an amended Clause 11 rather than have separate provision in Clauses 10 and 20.
The good relations and communities pillar of the CEHR is of immense importance to disabled people. Clause 11 gives the CEHR the power to address the tensions that exist between individuals on the basis of the communities to which they belong and also to ensure that disadvantaged groups are not left isolated within society. That is of obvious relevance to disabled people, whether or not they define themselves as part of a community as such, in view of the prevalence of bullying, harassment and hate crime inspired by prejudice or hostility towards people with all manner of impairments. We were delighted earlier this year that the Government accepted the amendments to the Disability Discrimination Bill suggested by myself, my noble friend Lord Ashley, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and others which dealt with just this point.
However, the Bill sets disability apart from the other strands; the disability provisions are set out in Clause 10. Like Clause 11, Clause 10 requires the commission to take action against involuntary isolation and eliminate prejudice, hostility and harassment. It differs from Clause 11 only in that the community relation provisions are replaced with a duty to,
and encourage good practice in the treatment of disabled persons. These provisions are clearly intended to reflect the fact that the Disability Discrimination Act, unlike the other equality Acts, is asymmetrical. Unlike race and sex equality law, it does not confer rights on everyone, but focuses on addressing the barriers to participation for disabled people.
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We share the Government's concern to ensure that the Equality Bill recognises this key and distinctive approach to disability equality. We understand the purpose of having a separate clause on disability to reflect this distinctive approach. Our amendments, which would amend Clause 11 to embrace disability, make clear this distinctive, asymmetrical approach. Specifically, we propose a provision that would make it clear that Clause 11 should be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the principle that equality of opportunity for disabled persons involves, in particular, taking steps to take account of disabled persons' disabilities, even where that involves treating disabled persons more favourably than others. This wording is familiar. It is taken from the disability equality duty that is enshrined in the DDA 2005, to which the CEHR will be subject, thus ensuring consistency with those provisions.
I have the feeling that the Government are wondering whether the drafting of Clause 11 properly fulfils the Government's objectives. It may be that removing Clauses 10 and 20 and replacing them with a new Clause 11 would be the best approach.
The last amendment that I wish to addressI know that the Minister has been looking forward to thisis Amendment No. 140. It is highly technical and intended to ascertain whether the CEHR will be able to make compromise agreements where appropriate, to settle employment discrimination claims, and to clarify whether the CEHR will need to take out professional indemnity insurance or be exempt from that requirement. I believe that the Government may wish to take this amendment away and consider it, so rather than take the time of the Committee, I will leave the Minister to explain all the technicalities when she comes to reply. I beg to move.
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