HL Deb 26 July 2000 vol 616 cc540-2

(" . In section 37(5) of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, after the word "medical" insert "or religious".").

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 407, it may be convenient if I speak also to Amendment No. 408. Section 37 of the Disability Discrimination Act prevents unfair discrimination by taxi drivers against blind travellers and, possibly deaf travellers using a guide dog. The legislation has been on the statute book for some time. There is no associated secondary legislation. The Minister has said that he is consulting. When will he finish that consultation?

Amendment No. 407 would provide the option of exemptions on religious as well as medical grounds. Amendment No. 408 is fairly brutal, providing that Section 37 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 should come into force on 1st April next year. When will the Minister implement that most important piece of legislation? I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

On behalf of my noble friends, I support the amendment. My noble friend Lord Addington has been a doughty fighter for the rights of disabled people, including their right to proper access to transport. It would be a great advantage if disabled people could be sure of always being able to take their guide dog with them when they use a taxi.

The only problem might be that ordinary hire cars, which are often used by disabled drivers, might not be covered. Nevertheless, it would be a valuable step in the right direction.

Lord Whitty

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, rightly says that the proposals on consultation, which I announced in the House only last week, cover taxis. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 does not cover private cars.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked how soon we were going to enact Section 37 of the Disability Discrimination Act. My answer is, sooner than his amendment would. The consultation suggests a date of 1st March 2001, whereas his amendment says 1st April 2001. The consultation announced last week, which had been delayed, has been distributed. That meets the intention of Amendment No. 408. We are almost there.

I do not understand the argument behind Amendment No. 407, which would allow exemptions for taxi drivers on religious as well as medical grounds. That sounds like a pretty wide exemption. Religion is never defined in legislation. The amendment could lead to spurious applications. We have checked and we are not aware of any specific religious objections, so we do not think that a religious exemption is appropriate. I hope that the noble Earl will withdraw the amendment.

Earl Attlee

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. The last thing that I want to do is delay the implementation of Section 37 of the Disability Discrimination Act, even by one month.

I tabled the amendment to add religious grounds to medical grounds in case there might be a problem. I am glad that the Minister says that there is not. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 408 and 409 not moved.]

Lord Bradshaw moved Amendment No. 410:

After Clause 256, insert the following new clause—