HL Deb 17 December 2003 vol 655 cc1157-9
The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider and report on the draft Disability Discrimination Bill presented to both Houses on 3rd December (Cm 6058), and that the committee should report on the draft Bill by the end of April 2004.—(Baroness Amos.)

Lord Higgins

My Lords, I believe that it would be helpful to your Lordships and to those concerned with disability issues outside Parliament if the noble Baroness the Leader of the House could explain why it is expedient to set up this joint committee. Naturally, I had given her notice that I intended to raise the matter this afternoon.

The usual channels recognise that pre-legislative scrutiny may be helpful, but the selection of this Bill for that procedure seems to be rather odd. As I pointed out in the debate on the Loyal Address, such a proposal for a Bill of this kind has been government policy for a very long time. However, it has been discussed and consultation has taken place for about six years. So far as I can establish, there are no major matters of disagreement—certainly none which could not be dealt with by the normal committee procedure.

As I am sure the noble Baroness will be aware, among outside groups which are concerned with these issues there has been considerable disappointment that the Government have come forward with a draft rather than a substantive Bill. Are the Government prepared to consider whether it is appropriate for it to be dealt with in the way that the Government have proposed or, at any rate, can the noble Baroness give an assurance that, if we go ahead with the committee, at least a substantive Bill will be introduced in this Session? The matter has been delayed for a very long time and further procrastination seems to be unnecessary.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. He said that a great deal of concern had been expressed about the fact that the Bill would go through pre-legislative scrutiny. My understanding is that when my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announced in January that we would publish a draft Disability Discrimination Bill, that announcement was widely welcomed. Those doing so included the chair of the Disability Rights Commission. I am not entirely sure what has happened between January and now to change the minds of those who welcomed such a move at that time.

The reason that we have gone down this route is that we want good scrutiny of the Bill to take place. Before a substantive Bill is brought before Parliament, we want to iron out any concerns between the different stakeholders and between the two Houses. I am very pleased that it will be a Joint Committee of both Houses.

With regard to my giving a commitment on a substantive Bill being introduced this Session, the noble Lord will be aware that I am unable to do so. We made a commitment to pre-legislative scrutiny this Session, but I cannot make any commitments in relation to future Sessions because I cannot anticipate the Queen's Speech.

Lord Higgins

My Lords, I am most grateful for the response of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. However, following the announcement in the Queen's Speech that it would be a draft Bill, certainly the strong reaction among a number of the bodies concerned with these issues was one of disappointment that there would not be a substantive Bill. Following six years of consultation in which, I understand, there was general consensus on these matters, it is not clear exactly what we shall gain by further delay and pre-legislative scrutiny. There is great concern that the passage of the legislation may not be completed before the end of the Parliament, despite the Government's commitment to it. Therefore, as the deadline of April next year is not unreasonable, I ask the noble Baroness seriously to consider whether there will be time to deal with the Bill in this Session. Will she at least say that she will reconsider the matter?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I cannot give such an undertaking. The Government remain committed to this legislation and that is why we brought it forward. We remain committed to dealing with all stages of the legislation when it is introduced in substantive form. We are pleased that it has been brought forward for pre-legislative scrutiny precisely because we want to ensure that we get it right.

On Question, Motion agreed to; and a message was ordered to be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.