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Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I support both amendments. Amendment No. 7 provides that the commission shall give reasons in writing for a refusal to accept an oral submission. It is an important amendment. In paragraph 10 of the schedule we come to appeals against a non-discrimination notice. It may well be that part of the appeal will be the objection to receiving oral representations from someone that the commission considers to be unsuitable. It might be unusual, but it is possible that that could form part of the appeal. Therefore it is right that my noble friend's first amendment should be accepted. It may need to be improved in another place. I am quite happy with that.
Amendment No. 8 provides that the removal of a non-discrimination notice from the register should happen when it has been complied with. Again, it may be right and proper that the non-discrimination notice should remain on the register for a time--perhaps months or several years. But it should be removed eventually; otherwise, a young person starting a company in his or her early twenties who unwittingly makes mistakes will cause the name of the company and himself or herself to be on the register; and they can still be there 40 years later. Some unpleasant individual can raise the matter against that person when he or she is in their sixties. I strongly support both amendments.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for tabling Amendments Nos. 7 and 8. It gives me an opportunity to confirm the Government's intentions with regard to them.
Amendment No. 7 seeks to make provision in the Bill for the commission to give reasons in writing why it has refused to receive oral representations from a person to whom it reasonably objects as being unsuitable.
My noble friend Lord Hunt argued on Report that we should leave it to the commission to exercise its judgment in a fair and balanced manner. However, in view of the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, I am prepared to accept the principle behind the amendment and can confirm that we shall be bringing forward a government amendment at the next stage. I hope that that commitment is one that noble Lords can accept and that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Amendment No. 8 seeks to make provision for the commission to arrange for the removal of a non-discrimination notice from the public register when the action required by the notice has been complied with. As my noble friend Lord Hunt indicated, we are sympathetic to the idea behind the amendment, although it raises a number of practical issues which need to be addressed. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to them. For example, as the noble Baroness said, we need to be clear about the period after which a non-discrimination notice should be removed from the register and when the period should be calculated as starting.
I am pleased to confirm the statement in my letter. We are currently considering the practical issues raised by this amendment with ministerial colleagues. We need to consult them as it has implications for future policy on the powers of the EOC and CRE, as I think the noble Baroness recognised.
I give the noble Baroness an absolute assurance that there can be no question of inadequate time being allowed for the interdepartmental discussion before the Bill is considered in another place. There will be plenty of time. While I hope that it will be possible to bring forward a government amendment at the next stage, I am sure the noble Baroness will understand that I cannot give an absolutely firm commitment at this point until that interdepartmental discussion has taken place.
Noble Lords will also be aware that we are seeking cross-government agreement for a proposal defining the scope of non-discrimination notices on the face of the Bill. I have already made clear that, given cross-government agreement, we shall bring forward an amendment providing for that too.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I would like to say I was but the noble Baroness made two totally conflicting statements. At one stage she said--and I wrote it down verbatim--we will bring forward an amendment. However, a little later she said that she could not guarantee it because the negotiations might not be complete in time. Perhaps she will be able to do two things. First, can she explain to the House what negotiations are taking place and what is the timescale? Secondly, if the negotiations are not complete before the Bill proceeds through another place, does it mean that there will not be an amendment to the Bill? The answers to those questions are important. Unless something goes on the face of the Bill as it leaves this House, this House will have no further opportunity to return to those important matters. We all know--it happens with all governments--that once a piece of legislation is passed it is many years before we return to it in order to amend it.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, there is absolutely nothing conflicting in what I said. I thought I made it clear that we would be bringing forward a government amendment on the noble Baroness's amendment, Amendment No. 7. I thought I made that clear. What I said was, as concerns Amendment No. 8, that we were still consulting ministerial colleagues. Until that consultation was complete, I could not give her an absolute guarantee that the Government would be able to bring forward an amendment in another place in relation to the second issue covered by Amendment No. 8.
The reason I can make a commitment with respect to the noble Baroness's Amendment No. 7 is that there is already intergovernmental agreement about it. However, the more complicated issue covered by Amendment No. 8 has as yet not had the intergovernmental discussion necessary. I hope that that clarifies the position and that in the light of it the noble Baroness is able to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I am grateful for that clarification, but it is different from the letter. The letter refers to both amendments in the same sentence. I will read the letter again. It states:
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am sorry if I did not make myself clear. As concerns the first amendment, the consultations are complete and there is agreement. That is why I can give the absolute guarantee that we will bring forward a government amendment. On the second amendment, those consultations are not yet complete.
I do not see the problem with the second amendment. If a company is found in breach of its obligations under the Act and a discrimination notice is put on the public register and the company quite willingly and without delay remedies that, it seems to me only fair that at some
The noble Baroness cannot give a timescale, she cannot even guarantee now that there will be an amendment in another place. That means that companies' names will go on the register; good will will be lost and the reputation of the company will remain tainted. As long as it is on the register for having been in breach and is never removed, even though it has conformed quickly, it will be on the register with the names of people who have been laggardly about conforming. They will be on the same register as people who have conformed without delay. That is unfortunate. It would destroy a great deal of good will from the very people for whom the disability rights commission will be in business, to work with them and encourage them. I am deeply disappointed in what the noble Baroness said about Amendment No. 8. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 7.
Page 17, line 6, at end insert--
("( ) The Commission shall arrange for the removal of a non-discrimination notice from the register when the action required by the notice has been complied with.").