HL Deb 29 April 2004 vol 660 cc881-3

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they now expect their new Disability Discrimination Bill to be presented to Parliament.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Hollis of Heigham)

My Lords, our expectations have not changed. We are on track to introduce the Disability Discrimination Bill in this Parliament. Indeed, as noble Lords are aware, a draft is undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. We will respond to the committee's report as soon as possible after it is published. Announcements on the legislative programme will be made in the Queen's Speech in the usual way.

Lord Morris of Manchester

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend, as ever, and to my noble friend Lord Carter and the Joint Committee for consulting disabled people with such unfailing care. It was movingly exemplified for me by their readiness—in the Easter Recess—to visit Sir Peter Large, who is currently too severely disabled to leave home.

While I warmly acknowledge their manifold legislative achievements for disabled people, can we be assured that Ministers will move with all speed to enact the Bill, resorting if necessary to the rollover procedure now available to expedite Royal Assent?

Will they also back the DRC's call for the "reasonable adjustments duty" on public authorities to be clearly stated as an anticipatory one in the Bill: a duty owed to disabled people generally, not only to individual disabled people who request help?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I am sure that the House will join me in recognising the huge achievements of Sir Peter Large over many years. Obviously, his health is a concern for all of us but he has been a great figure in the world and has done so much for the disability cause.

My noble friend asked about speed, rollover, and so on. That is a matter for the usual channels, but I can repeat again that we are on track to deliver the Bill within this Parliament.

My noble friend's third substantive question was about local authorities' anticipatory duty, as opposed to a reactive duty. The issue is whether local authorities are obliged, through their services, their functions and the public premises they own to anticipate the needs of disabled people by ensuring that ramps, audio loops, and so on are available. Yes, we believe that the duty for local authorities is anticipatory; we believe that the drafting makes it clear. But if, for example, the scrutiny committee believes on reflection that it is not as clear as it should be, we are willing to take this away and discuss it with legal counsel in order to ensure that we deliver transparency in the Bill. Of course, when the Bill goes through either House, it will be subject to the Pepper v Hart proceedings which make clear the intent behind the proposals.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the Joint Committee completed its deliberations this week and the report should be published in the week of 24 May. The Minister will know that the report is based on the draft Bill which is, itself, an enabling Bill, based on the framework of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. I hope that in the light of that, the Government will be able to respond rather more quickly than the two months that they normally take to respond to such reports. I can assure the Minister that the recommendations are quite straightforward. If she could bring the process of response forward so that the Bill could be introduced before the Summer Recess, that would be extremely helpful.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, we will have to see what the recommendations say. My noble friend who chairs the committee is in a better position to tell the House this than I am, but my understanding is that we are due to receive the recommendations of the Scrutiny Committee on about 24 May. Normally there is a two-month period after that which would take us through to 24 July. As that is the beginning of the recess, we would lose valuable time. So if there is any way of compressing the timetable, we will certainly try to do it. However, that depends on how substantial, dramatic, surprising or worrying the committee's recommendations may be. But if my noble friend has those concerns at heart, then I am sure that he will produce recommendations which we can respond to very quickly.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the noble Baroness mentions valuable parliamentary time. Can she say by when she anticipates that full implementation of the Bill will occur? Is the end of 2006 a realistic objective? Will the publication be accompanied by the draft orders which, at one point, were promised to the Joint Committee?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, on the last point, my understanding is that we still hope to publish the draft regulations simultaneously with the Committee stage of the Bill, as far as possible. From my own experience, if, for any reason we are unable to do that, partly because a late Clause 15 has been introduced into the Bill, obviously there will be a very full explanatory memorandum in lieu. We want to be helpful to the House and I am sure that the House would want that.

I have no reason to think that we will not be on track to meet such a timetable in its broad terms. But the noble Lord will understand that there are aspects, not necessarily within the Bill, but associated with disability issues, such as transport, which obviously have a very long timetable because of requiring very heavy investment. So although we might expect to be able to meet such a proposed timetable, the noble Lord will understand that on some issues—aviation, shipping, trains, buses, and so on—there are different timetables in which vehicles will be fully accessible over a much longer period of time than 2006. However, within the substance of the Bill, I might hope to meet such a timetable.

Lord Addington

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we have taken up a great deal of time over many years asking about when legislation of this type will be enacted? Would the Minister be open to a deal that if we get this through as quickly as possible, the usual suspects will not ask any more questions about when it will happen? Surely that would free up a great deal of time.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I would be severely disappointed in your Lordships, including the noble Lord, Lord Addington, if, having got the Bill through the House, they continued to ask when it would come before the House.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I was very sorry to miss the early part of my noble friend's Answer, so I am speaking rather in the dark. Is she aware that last Monday the Home Secretary announced that legislation on identity cards would be introduced in the autumn and on the statute book before the general election? Has she been able to give that kind of undertaking to the House today'? If not, will she bear in mind that the identity card legislation is highly controversial and, as she will gather from these exchanges, the question of a disability Bill is not contentious and should go through the House very easily? Can she give that commitment, please?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I can only repeat the first Answer that I gave to my noble friend Lord Morris. Our expectations have not changed; we are on track to introduce the Disability Discrimination Bill in this Parliament. In that way, we will fulfil the commitment we made in our manifesto to extend civil rights to disabled people.

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