§ 3.7 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Hollis of Heigham)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
I took great pride in our manifesto commitment to deliver comprehensive civil rights for disabled people. The Bill will complete that task. I know that many of your Lordships were present when we debated the original Disability Discrimination Act. In particular, I refer to my noble friend Lord Carter, who has led the campaign so valiantly, and to my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke. I pass on the apologies of my noble friend Lord Morris, who cannot be present today, but I am confident that he will join us in Committee. I am especially grateful to the joint parliamentary scrutiny committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Carter for its positive and thorough contribution.
Disabled people face greater difficulties than most. They encounter institutional ignorance and misunderstanding, individual prejudice and the all-too-familiar barriers to access in every walk of life. That can have a devastating effect on their opportunities and self-esteem.
The Government have taken a wide range of practical action to improve disabled people's lives, from launching the New Deal for Disabled People to ensuring that trains, buses and coaches are accessible. Underpinning all of that—I am sure that the whole House will share our position—is our commitment to comprehensive civil rights. Such rights are fundamental if society is to remove the barriers to the participation of disabled people and empower disabled people.
The Disability Discrimination Act that we inherited had many merits. We have subsequently discovered that it also had some shortcomings. Our task has been to address those shortcomings, while building on the Act's strength.
I shall remind your Lordships of some of the milestones. The Disability Rights Commission Act 1999 established an effective enforcement body for disabled people. I think that it was my noble friend Lord Carter who said that it was like putting the engine into the DDA system. In October 1999, we introduced rights of access so that service providers had to make reasonable adjustments to their policies, practices and procedures or provide auxiliary aids and services. Through the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, we amended the DDA to protect disabled pupils and students.
We brought the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amendment) Regulations 2003 into force on 1 October this year—many of your Lordships here today took part in those discussions—which, along with many other 666 improvements, ensure that there is comprehensive coverage of occupations and that all small employers are subject to the Act's employment duties. As your Lordships will recall, as regards DDA provisions, we have brought the number of employees down from 15 effectively to one or to nil.
Also on 1 October, we brought into force the final rights of access in the DDA, which means that service providers have to, where reasonable, remove physical barriers to enable disabled people to access their services. Throughout that period we introduced a range of regulations under the Act's transport provisions. These ensure, for example, that; ill new rail vehicles must be accessible and that by 2017 all buses will need to be accessible.
We hope that this Bill is the final part of the transformation of rights for disabled people. We are already leading Europe in our approach to civil rights for disabled people, and this Bill will help consolidate our position there.
Most of the changes that we propose were recommended by the Disability Rights Task Force, which my right honourable friend Andrew Smith set up in 1997. Representatives of disability organisations, trade unions, employers, local authorities and the education sector, including many individuals with disabilities or with family members with disabilities, made major recommendations. We accepted the vast majority of these and they form the basis of our reforms.
The Bill has been widely welcomed by the chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, Bert Massie—I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I pay tribute to his work—the Employers' Forum on Disability—again, I would like to pay tribute to the work of Susan Scott-Parker—the CBI. the TUC, the National Housing Federation and MIND, among many.
It is a very good Bill, which puts rights for disabled people at least on a par with the most comprehensive of other equality legislation, bearing in mind that rights for disabled people are not the same as race relations issues. It contains powerful provisions to improve disabled people's chances to be fully involved in society.
However, I know that there are some who would wish us go further still. But it is critical that the Bill does not undermine employers' and service providers' efforts to deliver on existing DDA duties, many of which came into force only in October—barely two months ago. That would not be good for disabled people. So we will not be altering the fundamental and familiar DDA concepts which are increasingly understood and working. But we have accepted all the recommendations from pre-legislative scrutiny that we felt able to do.
Perhaps noble Lords may allow me briefly to run through the purport of the Bill. Clause 1, concerning councillors, would insert new Sections 15A to C into the DDA. Local authorities in Great Britain, including the Greater London Authority, would be placed under a duty not to discriminate against their members when they carry out their official business as councillors by treating them less favourably or by failing to make a reasonable adjustment.
667 For example, if a disabled member of a planning committee could not attend a Tuesday morning meeting because she has a regular hospital appointment for her condition, the council would need to consider whether changing the meeting was reasonable. Many of the proposals would cost virtually nil, but would insist on putting the needs of disabled people in the foreground so that they are not treated less favourably in their capacity as office holder.
Local authorities already have duties under the DDA as employers, service providers and landlords. So we do not think that the new duties will be difficult or unfamiliar to implement. There are very few instances when there is a problem, but, when they occasionally emerge, it is right to be clear.
Clause 2 deals with discrimination by public authorities and would extend the DDA to prohibit discrimination against disabled people by public authorities as they exercise their functions. Many activities of public authorities are already covered by the DDA. This clause would ensure that disability discrimination law extends across almost all their remaining activities, bringing into coverage functions such as the issuing of licences, a planning authority drawing up a local plan or the appointment of governors by a school. It should be noted that governors are under Clause 2 here, not Clause 1. For example, a government department conducting a consultation on new laws would need to ensure that disabled people were able to find out about the proposals and give their views.
New Section 21B would prohibit discrimination by public authorities. The definition of public authority used in the Bill is the same as in the Race Relations Act and the Human Rights Act, with certain limited exceptions that are necessary for constitutional or national security reasons.
New Section 21C would exempt a limited list of functions from the scope of the Bill. These exemptions, which mirror those in the Race Relations Act, protect the integrity of the judicial process and the sovereignty of Parliament. New Sections 21D and E define discrimination in an analogous way to the definition in Sections 19 to 21 of the DDA. Bodies would face similar duties for both their functions and their services, providing clarity for the bodies and for disabled people.
Clause 3 would create a new proactive duty on public bodies requiring them to consider how to eliminate discrimination against, and harassment of, disabled people, and to promote greater equality of opportunity. That will promote a major change to the culture of public bodies. So, for example, public authorities will need to look carefully at the outcomes that they are achieving for disabled people. For example, they may wish to review their employment processes in order to eliminate the barriers that prevent disabled employees achieving their full potential. The clause creates that duty by inserting a new Part 5A into the DDA.
668 Under the Scotland Act, the promotion of equality of opportunity is a devolved matter and the Government will follow the Sewel convention and ask the Scottish Parliament for approval to that provision. New Section 49A sets out the general duty on public authorities to have "due regard" to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment and to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people, which would be supported by regulations and specific duties. We published our proposals for these earlier this year in the consultation document, Delivering equality for disabled people.
Clause 4, concerning the police, is a technicality to ensure that the police are fully covered by disability discrimination law. Clause 5, entitled,Application of sections 19 to 21 of the 1995 Act to transport vehicles",would apply to the provision of goods, facilities and services to be extended to provision and use of transport vehicles. Bert Massie told me about an assistant on a train, not long ago, who said that as he was disabled and in a wheelchair, it was not a requirement that he should be served. In future, loopholes like that will not be possible.
Physical changes to transport vehicles are already covered by regulations made under Part 5 of the DDA. The clause clarifies that the current exemption of transport services does not apply to any aspect of transport infrastructure that is covered by the existing provisions. It would also enable regulations to be made to lift the Part 3 exemption for different vehicles at different times and to varying extents so that we can address the characteristics and constraints of different transport services.
On 29 November, the Department for Transport published draft regulations for consultation, which would apply to public transport services—buses, coaches, trains, taxis and private hire vehicles—vehicle hire, breakdown services and vehicles used on leisure and tourism services. My noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham who, unfortunately, cannot be here today, but who, I think, introduced those regulations, will handle those amendments on behalf of the department in Committee as he has a very real expertise in that field.
That means, for example, a disabled woman could not he refused access to a bus that was otherwise accessible to her simply because she was disabled—perhaps she had learning difficulties and the bus driver decided on his own behalf to discriminate against her—or it might be reasonable for train staff to take refreshments to disabled passengers at their seats if their wheelchair meant that they could not get easily to the buffet car.
Clause 6 concerns,Rail vehicles: application of accessibility regulations".Regulations made under Part 5 of the DDA require all rail vehicles brought into use after 1998 to be accessible. However, the Act does not allow an "end-date" to be set by which time all rail vehicles must comply. Clause 6 will overcome those shortcomings. Our preferred date for the end-date is 2020, which has been brought forward from the 2025 date on which DfT originally consulted. That 669 would strike a reasonable balance between the cost to the railway industry and the mobility needs of disabled people.
On refurbishment, the department has indicated that it would apply the accessibility regulations on a "like-forlike" basis. In other words, the amount and type of accessibility enhancement required would be proportionate to the amount and type of refurbishment being undertaken. For example, if a train operator was replacing all the seating in certain vehicles, it would have to install the required number of priority seats for use by disabled people. This would deliver the accessible trains which disabled people are seeking within a fair and reasonable time-frame.
Clause 6 would also allow for exemptions to be made for all vehicles used on a particular railway, such as a heritage railway, while continuing to ensure consultation with the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee.
Clauses 7 and 8 also deal with rail vehicles. They provide for a new certification and enforcement regime for rail vehicle accessibility. This would ensure that new rail vehicles, and refurbished ones, complied with the appropriate regulations, providing clarity for disabled people and the rail industry. The enforcement provisions would allow the Secretary of State to take quick and effective action against the operators of non-compliant vehicles.
Clause 9 concerns the recognition of disabled persons' badges and is a measure relating to the blue badge scheme of parking concessions for disabled people. It would enable legal recognition of disabled people's parking badges issued by other countries, for example those for people from France or Germany, and would add a small change to Schedule 1 to allow for an updating of some of the language used in connection with badges issued to organisations. It will replace the word "institution" which many people now find offensive.
Clause 10 covers discriminatory advertisements. Since 1 October, employers and others to whom Part II of the DDA applies have been under a duty not to publish discriminatory job adverts. Clause 10 applies the duty to "third party publishers" such as newspapers. For example, a newspaper which published an advert saying that a full driving licence was an essential qualification for a wholly desk-bound job might be liable for discrimination, as well as the employer.
Clause 11 is a technical provision concerning group insurance and does not address genetic testing or the assessment of disability in individuals in terms of more or less adverse insurance. Rather, it clarifies the coverage of group insurance arranged by an employer with an insurance provider. For example, an insurer contracted to provide health insurance to a group of an employer's staff would be treated the same as when it provides such cover to the public, apart from, as now, that any cases would be heard by employment tribunals.
Clause 12 is an important new provision dealing with private clubs. It would insert new Sections 21F to 21J into Part III of the DDA so that larger private clubs are 670 covered by the Act. Sections 19 to 21 of the DDA cover the provision of goods, services or facilities. However, private clubs are outside the scope of those provisions. This measure would bring clubs into the DDA, protecting disabled people in the setting of a private organisation, such as a London club or even a political party.
Members, applicants for membership, associates, guests and potential guests would all be protected from disability discrimination, including failure to make reasonable adjustments. For example, large-print application forms might have to be provided. Alternatively, the disabled wife of a guest would have to be invited to a Christmas dinner on an equal basis to all other wives.
The detail of the reasonable adjustment duties are not set out in the Bill. We will consult shortly on how and when these duties would come into effect, but we expect them to be analogous to the existing duty on providers of goods and services more broadly.
Clause 13 covers discrimination in relation to the letting of premises. For the first time, landlords and managers of rented premises would be under a duty to make reasonable adjustments. They might have to change their practices, policies or procedures, change a term of the letting, or provide an auxiliary aid or service for a disabled person. For example, a landlord might have to read out letters about the property 10 a tenant who is blind, or provide a rent book in large print. If there was an accessible door to a block of flats, the landlord might have to allow a wheelchair user to enter and leave through it even if tenants were normally forbidden to do so.
Clause 13 would insert new sections into the DDA after existing Sections 22 to 24, which deal with the less favourable treatment of disabled people when it comes to the sale or letting of premises. New Sections 24A to 24F deal with the situation where premises have been let to a person, while new Sections 24G to 24J apply to the situation where premises are to be let.
The duties in these groups mirror each other. Details are set out regarding the duties of reasonable adjustments, while Sections 24B and 24H set out some limited exceptions from the new duties. As far as is practicable, they replicate the existing approach to reasonable adjustments, justifications and regulatory powers which apply to service providers.
These provisions would help disabled people who are renting or seeking to rent premises. Landlords should not be fearful of them, as they will never have to make adjustments that are unreasonable. A landlord would never have to remove or alter a physical feature of the premises. For example, while he might have to provide a portable ramp if a few steps made access impossible or unreasonably difficult for a wheelchair user, the landlord would not have to alter the steps themselves, or more generally have to widen gateways or doorways. This is consistent with the recommendation made by the Disability Rights Task Force.
Clause 14 would allow the Government by regulation to amend the small dwellings exception that applies to existing and new premises provisions, which is where 671 there is a resident landlord. For example, it would apply where there is not normally residential accommodation on the premises for more than six people in addition to the landlord and members of the household. At the moment, someone who owns and lives in a premises is exempt. We have powers, if appropriate, to reduce the number of people.
Clause 15 addresses a matter which I know has been a concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth. It relates to general qualifications bodies. The clause would prohibit unlawful discrimination against disabled people by bodies which are not already covered by Part IV of the DDA issuing general qualifications. Vocational qualifications are already covered by the DDA. "Relevant qualifications", such as A-levels and GCSEs in England and Wales and their equivalents in Scotland, can be prescribed under powers in new Section 31AA. This would be done following consultations with Scottish Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales.
The approach adopted in the remaining new sections for defining unlawful discrimination and harassment, and providing reasonable adjustments, mirrors that in Sections 14A and 14B of the DDA for vocational qualifications. For example, an examination board might have to agree that a visually impaired student could have someone read out exam questions to him and write down his answers. As with those provisions, we have recognised the importance of maintaining standards as we increase opportunities. We also have powers of enforcement.
I turn now to the final few clauses. Clause 16 covers the generalisation of Section 56 of the 1995 Act in relation to Part III claims. The clause extends to areas like the provision of goods and services an existing procedure whereby a disabled person can ask questions about alleged discrimination in relation to employment, allowing the disabled person to produce a better legal case if appropriate.
Clause 17 addresses the meaning of "disability". Section 1 of the DDA defines the meaning of disability for the purposes of the Act, while Schedule 1 elaborates on that definition. The clause would abolish the requirement in Schedule 1 that a mental illness must be "clinically well recognised", thus implementing a recommendation of the scrutiny committee. In other words, someone who clearly has a mental illness could be covered by the DDA even if it is difficult, at an early stage in the diagnosis, to name the precise condition.
Clause 17 would also introduce new paragraph 6A in Schedule 1 deeming people who have HIV, cancer or MS to be disabled, extending coverage to those groups. We shall consult shortly on using the powers set out in Clause 17 to exclude cancers which would not require substantial treatment, as recommended by the task force. I mention, for example, conditions such as minor melanomas which can be removed in one session of treatment. A further example is that of a person recently diagnosed with HIV, but experiencing no symptoms. He would be protected against discrimination from diagnosis of the condition in all the circumstances that people symptomatic of 672 HIV are currently protected from, including if they were dismissed as a result of revealing the diagnosis. Clause 17 would also ensure that the regulation-making powers under Schedule 1 could be used more flexibly to deem people as disabled in line with the scrutiny committee's recommendations.
Clauses 18 and 19, along with the remaining schedules, are minor and consequential.
This Bill completes our promise to deliver comprehensive and enforceable civil rights for disabled people. I commend it with pleasure to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for the careful way in which she introduced the Bill, for which disabled people have been waiting for a very long time. It is a measure to counter discrimination against disabled people, which regretfully still goes on. In her speech the Minister cited several instances to illustrate that.
The legislation is also by definition very complicated in that it builds, not for the first time, on an Act of Parliament which had its inception in the time of the last Conservative government. As the noble Baroness said, last year, this Government made further additions to the Act by order in the field of transport. The Opposition were pleased to see those additions, as, on the whole, we are to see this Bill. However, both are legislation by reference.
The result of the two amendments—the order and the Bill—is that the legislation as a whole is difficult to comprehend. The pre-legislative scrutiny committee, so convincingly chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Carter—to whom I pay tribute—must have found reading through the whole subject as difficult as I have. Indeed, it alluded to that point in its excellent report. It requested, as I did in responding to the regulations last year. that once the current Bill has been enacted, the three pieces of legislation should be consolidated, perhaps under a new title. While I agree with the committee on that—something that I cannot do on every recommendation—I strongly believe that for our consideration of the Bill we need something of this sort much, much faster. The noble Baroness has facilities that are not available to us. I would therefore press her strongly to make a Keeling-type schedule available before we start Grand Committee.
Turning to the Bill itself, I start from the proposition—which I hope cannot be gainsaid —that disabled people are people first, disabled second and discriminated against in their various activities third. It therefore follows that, despite their disabilities, whether mental or physical, they should not be put in a more advantaged position than able-bodied people. I have looked at the Bill and the Joint Committee's report in that light.
In this speech I should like to comment not so much on the Bill itself but on some of the recommendations of the Joint Committee, which decided to stick to the policy of the Bill and to ignore the drafting. There will 673 no doubt be drafting points in Committee, and the noble Baroness, in particular, will appreciate that I would not be running true to form if I did not make them. However, when all is said and done, Second Reading should be about policy and nothing else.
A major change to policy has been that the Government now recognise that HIV/AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis should be recognised as disabilities. Although I welcome that, I find it very odd that the Bill may not cover all cancers. I know that the noble Baroness has said a little about that, but I still find it very odd that some cancers may be excluded by future orders. We shall certainly probe this matter much further in Committee.
I also question the Government's approach to depression. I accept that, by definition, mental illness is treatable. Nevertheless, it is not normally treatable very quickly. I do not think that the Joint Committee was unreasonable in its request that depression should be definable by the number of times it presents itself.
Consistent with my general approach to the Bill, I do not believe that it is the place to deal with non-disabled people. Therefore, people who are associated with disability should be excluded from its provisions. As the noble Baroness mentioned, there is a plethora of other anti-discrimination legislation and they should be covered by that. Nor do I believe that anyone on disability benefits should automatically fall within its provisions, especially in the current climate of suspicion that a number of disability claimants should be on unemployment benefit.
The Bill contains a most peculiar clause in regard to the Armed Forces, members of which, despite what the Joint Committee says, are not and should not be covered by the Bill. I agree with the Government on that. However, why on earth are they to be covered when—and, it appears, only when—they are employed at the Government Communications Headquarters? It would, after all, not be unusual for them to switch from there to front-line duties and vice versa.
Turning to transport issues, which are of major concern to disabled people, we welcome the fact that the Government came moderately clean on the subject of an end date for the suitable adaptation of railway carriages last week by announcing that the end date for completion will be 2020 rather than five years later. However, there is some confusion in my mind about when that will obviate the need for exemption certificates, which of course are very much a part of the Bill as currently drafted.
As to whether DRC codes of practice should be made by affirmative or negative order, I have no doubt that your Lordships' Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee will have something to say on the matter. I await its findings with interest.
There is a great deal in the Bill in regard to public authorities. It is noteworthy that the legislation does not cover Members of Parliament, or even the Government, in carrying out their duties; everything is about regional and locally elected people and their appointees. I find that very strange, especially when 674 Members of the Scottish Parliament are to be included in certain circumstances. All, I believe, are overdue for coverage.
I agree, however, that quangos need to be excluded from the provision, but only as and when they disappear from the political map. As to a duty for them to promote good relations in their areas of operation. I confess to being rather agnostic. For now, I am prepared to give the Government the benefit of the doubt. As I am on the subject of compliance notices, we had more than enough of those in the Pensions Bill, without having any more.
Access to housing is a basic human right for all our citizens. Clearly, suitable adaptations will be necessary in a large number of cases. I noted the committee's recommendation that a landlord should not unreasonably withhold his consent to the making of physical alterations. That is obviously a problem, but it is one of the most expensive suggestions that the committee made. For the Government to say, "Well, it is only 16p maximum per rented dwelling", does not portray the full picture, as that is clearly an average figure across the whole rented sector.
The figure will be very much larger for houses and flats that need to be adapted to be suitable for letting to disabled people—totalling, I see again from the RIA, somewhat more than half a million pounds. I believe that the Government realise that, which is why they have stated in the Bill that landlords should not be compelled to take steps that would involve the removal or alteration of a physical feature. The noble Baroness mentioned doorways. To my mind, stairways would be a suitable addition to the list—as would stair-lifts, which are expensive to install, difficult to mount, and, unless the building is continuously used for disabled people, would have to be removed for re-letting to an able-bodied person.
I agree with the Government that tenants should not be able to make such alterations without the landlord's consent. We strongly believe, though, that it is necessary to have a register of affordable housing, both for disabled people and for the general rented stock. I am encouraged by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, when speaking recently on the Housing Bill, that such a thing would be useful. We will probe in Committee whether that would be appropriate for the discrete purposes of this Bill.
The Bill quite rightly covers discriminatory advertisements for employment, an issue which has occasionally been a problem. The Government, it seems, have not found such advertisements dealing with the provision of goods, facilities or services. Have they consulted the Disability Rights Commission on that? I am surprised that there does not seem to be a problem, as the Government seem to be saying. Legislation on the issue would, at the very least, stop a mischief at source.
The activities of employment tribunals also came under discussion in the Joint Committee, which requested that there should be a power to insist on the reinstatement or re-engagement of an employee in disability discrimination cases. I would have thought 675 that if such a power were necessary, tribunals could use their existing powers to order just that. It would be helpful if the noble Baroness, when she replies to the debate, could confirm whether I am right.
I am glad that the Government have now seen fit to include general qualification bodies within the scope of the legislation. The move could, however, be seen as the start down a slippery slope. Bodies awarding professional qualifications—what the Government call "awarding bodies"—will sometimes be included and sometimes they will not. It would be useful to have a list of which of them will be in and which will be ruled out.
We should also consider the Joint Committee's recommendations requesting a review or consultation exercise. That would include reviewing the eligibility criteria for all disability benefits. I have uncoupled this from my earlier comments on passporting from benefit to coverage under the Bill. I should like to hear from the Minister that all the benefits for which her department are responsible are being kept under continuous review.
Other recommendations relate to reviewing the application of the duty on listed authorities to assess whether amendment is required; consulting on and then producing a code of practice for volunteers, resulting, if necessary, in a regulation-making power enabling volunteers under the umbrella of the Bill; and reviewing the case for a support fund for volunteers. I am surprised that the Government are not even prepared to consider all these areas. Although the consideration might come to nothing, at the end of the day they would have lost nothing by taking these recommendations more seriously than they appear to have done so far.
Lastly, this is a Bill that, like almost all Department for Work and Pensions legislation, is littered with regulation-making powers. I have no doubt that some regulations will already be in draft, and that the department has a pretty good idea of when it hopes to lay them. It would be extremely helpful to all noble Lords if the Minister would let us have sight of them as soon as possible in our consideration of the Bill. In the immediate past, she has been extremely good in this regard, and I trust that she will not blot her copybook now.
This is a needed Bill which could be made better. My noble friend Lord Higgins and I will do all in our power to make it so.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay
My Lords, the way in which we treat disabled people in our country is the mark of a civilised society. I therefore salute the Bill as a signpost towards the society that we all want to build.
I hope that noble Lords can hear me. As noble Lords may have gathered, I am partially vocally disabled this afternoon but, unlike most disablement, it will soon pass. As a new boy on the Front Bench, I start by paying tribute to my colleague, Paul Holmes, our shadow Minister for the disabled in another place, and my noble friend Lord Addington, who will wind up 676 this afternoon from these Benches, for their help and advice to me and for their doughty campaigning for the disabled over many years.
When I saw that the Bill was being introduced, my first reaction after the rigours of the Pensions Bill, with all the battles and the time that we had spent on it, was what doctors call "heart sink", not just for myself, but also for the Minister, after her sterling efforts. But what a contrast this is. We have a draft Bill that has been carefully considered and which has had proper pre-legislative scrutiny and we have had a well-argued and basically sensible response from the Government to the Select Committee's recommendations. So, as the Disability Rights Commission suggested, let us get the Bill on the statute book as soon as possible.
Many noble Lords in this House have lived with disability at first hand and are in a unique position to scrutinise the Bill with the expertise of experience. Many of us who are not in that position may nevertheless have had temporary experience of mobility problems. Just before I entered the House, I was run over. I broke several ribs and my leg, which was in plaster for two months. It was quite difficult to learn to walk on crutches with broken ribs. I was very lucky. My wife is a doctor, I had plenty of money for taxis and I knew that my disability was time-limited. But it was still a salutary experience. If one can only use one hand, it takes a lot longer than double the time to clear a table and load a dishwasher. People do not treat one the same when one is in a wheelchair or on crutches. At St Thomas's Hospital, after my leg was set, I would have been blocking an NHS bed for at least another day if I had not argued long and hard with the porter, who was quite sure he knew best about which ward I had to return to after my X-ray. He did not. Soon after I was back at work, I went to a grand commercial property function where I knew most of the movers and shakers. Normally, we would all be circulating, keeping in the swim and perhaps picking up the odd deal. Not for me that time, on my crutches. I was stuck in the corner and only a couple of old friends dropped by to talk to me, out of charity as I thought.
On transport, taxis worked well, once I had learnt how to kneel down to get into them. My 159 Routemaster bus with a conductor was fine. But the new, single-manned No. 3 was a nightmare, with sudden stops and starts—I think that must be the automatic transmission—so that I was knocked off my crutches twice, and had several near-misses. My worst travel experience of all was flying from Heathrow to Edinburgh. Despite buying two tickets, as required, and giving advance notice to British Airways, the wheelchair at Heathrow was very late both ways. I very nearly missed the flight. I shall not forget in a hurry feeling so isolated and helpless. That was my experience on a very temporary and short-term basis.
Many noble Lords accompany people who rely on wheelchairs and walking aids and they are all too well aware of the difficulties that disabled people face all the time, for example, steps without rails into public buildings, steep kerbs and uneven pavements. In particular, central London is not a disabled-friendly place. That is probably because of the age of its buildings, but there is no excuse for the problems not 677 to be solved. To give an example, last week I went to Westminster Cathedral with a person with walking difficulties for the splendid Parliamentary Choir concert in which the Minister, my wife and others sang so beautifully. But even there, the main entrance had steps with no handrail. We owe it to disabled people—and, looking some years ahead, this may well be an appeal to the enlightened self-interest of many of us in this House—to make life more accessible than it is now.
More and more people live longer and longer. Inevitably, this means more and more people with mobility problems. There are now about 10 million such people in all. Most of these people are used to leading active, useful and full lives and are anxious to play their part in society in spite of their difficulties. Their default position is to live their lives in the world of the able-bodied, not to be treated as different and needing special treatment. In leisure time, they make every effort to go to the theatre, the cinema, concerts, festivals, sporting events and so on. It is clear that actions already taken, thanks to the earlier Act, such as the provision of disabled lavatories, mean that many disabled people now have the confidence to go to venues knowing that they will not have to cross difficult roads or find less accessible public conveniences closed.
But it is even more important that disabled people should have access to work through more accessible transport. In view of the substantial cost implications, this is the area of the Bill that we will need to scrutinise and consider most closely in Committee. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Bradshaw for his advice on this as he has a lifetime's experience on the railways. Clearly, there are several key questions that we will have to consider. In particular, will the Minister say how many people who want to travel, by train in particular, use wheelchairs or have severe difficulties in travelling? If she cannot answer now, will she answer when we come to Committee?
I shall give one example as regards buses. There is not much point in making sure that we have kneeling buses if no effective action is being taken to ensure that parked cars are cleared from bus stops so that those buses can get right up to the pavement.
When dealing with disablement, we need to bear in mind that there is no such thing as "free money" in the equation. There is no separate disabled budget. All expenditure on the disabled has to come out of what would otherwise be spent on service improvement for public transport in general. That is not an argument against the expenditure, but it is an argument for clarity and consistency and for being clear about what we are asking for. In particular, is the appropriate date for full compliance for the railways 2017 or 2020? The regulatory impact assessment suggests that to make the date 2017 rather than 2020 would more than double the cost: £350 million compared to £170 million. I find that a surprising statistic and we will probe it in Committee. None the less, these improvements are clearly not cost-free and it is very important that improvement is done in a way that does not interfere with the general service to other people.
678 A recent survey by Leonard Cheshire shows that 60 per cent of households with a disabled member do not have access to a car, compared to 27 per cent of the general population. About half the people in that survey said that inaccessible transport restricted their choice of jobs or that they had been forced to turn down a job interview because of it. These are matters that we need to take very seriously. In general. both the regulatory impact assessment and the Government's response strike me as fair and balanced. Most of society and all parts of this House are united on the aims of the Bill. The need is for the disabled and those dealing with them to know exactly where they stand and for Parliament to have the full facts on the costs and who will pay.
I should like to give one further example on cost from my business experience as an investment manager dealing with commercial property. The regulatory impact assessment estimates the cost of adjusting buildings for disabled tenants on page 29 and says:It is envisaged that landlords will seek to recover these costs through rent increases".If we are talking about commercial property, how will that be done? Will it be reasonable to include an increase in rent as part of giving consent for alterations to the premises? Does the Minister agree that the regulatory impact assessment significantly underestimates the number of premises likely to be affected because it considers only the numbers of disabled people actually starting their own business or renting premises directly, not the much larger number of disabled people who are working in other business premises which are not rented by disabled people.
The disabled are well served by the charities which fight their corner. Both my noble friend Lord Addington and I have received many well argued briefings, and look forward to having more detailed discussions with the disabled groups as the Bill progresses.
As a new boy, I have found the common front projected or presented by the Disability Rights Commission on behalf of Leonard Cheshire, Mencap, Mind, RADAR, the Royal National Institute of the Blind, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People and Scope, especially helpful and effective.
I should also flag up concerns about Clause 3, which creates a duty on public authorities to promote disability equality, which I have received from Barbara Cohen, one of the special advisers to the Joint Committee, and my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill. They have suggestions, if I can put it in layman's language, for read-across from the Race Relations Act.
As a fellow special adviser to Roy Jenkins at the Home Office many years ago, I always stuck to economics and politics and left the legal and human rights arguments to my noble friend Lord Lester, and I look forward to hearing his superb advocacy in Committee.
We on these Benches welcome the Bill; we wish it Godspeed, and will do our best to help it pass into law before it is overtaken by the general election.
§ 3.52 p.m.
My Lords, like other noble Lords and the disability organisations that are connected with the Bill, I welcome it and the Government's repeated commitment that it will become law by the end of this Parliament.
As my noble friend the Minister pointed out, the Bill is one of a number introduced by the Government in the past five years that has sought to deal with discrimination against disabled people and their civil rights. I refer to the Disability Rights Commission Act 1999, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, the Mental Capacity Bill, which is awaiting its Third Reading in the Commons and this Bill which, as we know, is based on the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. For completeness, I should also mention the draft Mental Health Bill, which is now being considered by a Joint Select Committee of which I am a member.
The Government can be rightly proud of their record in bringing forward legislation to help end the continuing discrimination, in all its forms, against disabled people. Mention of this array of legislation reinforces a recommendation made by the Joint Select Committee on this Bill that the Government should ensure that each piece of legislation is consistent with all the others. For example, the Joint Select Committee considering the draft Mental Health Bill is finding very real problems relating to its provisions to the Mental Capacity Bill, the Mental Health Act 1983 and the Children Act. This Bill is, in a sense, more straightforward, since it is based on existing legislation—the 1995 Act—and it should be easier to check against other legislation. I hope that my noble friend will be able to assure us that the department intends to do this.
As the chairman of the Joint Select Committee on this Bill, I am glad to take this first opportunity to thank our special advisers, Jenny Morris and Barbara Cohen, and our Clerk, Jake Vaughan, and his staff for their excellent advice and support.
I am obviously pleased that the Government have accepted a number of the major recommendations we made. But my noble friend will not be surprised to learn that, along with other noble Lords, we shall wish to explore with the Government those recommendations that they did not accept. I have no doubts that amendments will be tabled to assist the Government in this regard.
I will not take up the time of the House by listing the substantial changes to the draft Bill which have been made by the Government, with one exception. That is the amendment of the definition of disability in respect of people with mental illness. The requirement in the 1995 Act is that mental illness must be "clinically well recognised". Although the wording was well intentioned, I do not think that either William Hague, the Minister at the time, or anybody else understood its full implications. The direct effect is that it is harder for people with mental illness to get protection from discrimination than those with physical illness. That is. in itself, discriminatory. So the acceptance by the Government of our recommendation for change has been very widely welcomed.
680 The definition of disability and mental illness illustrates the whole question of whether the definition of disability should be based on the social model or on the medical model, as in the 1995 Act and in this Bill. The social model attempts to define disabling barriers rather than medically defined impairment. To use the simple example we quoted on page 21 of our report, a disabled person might say, "My impairment is the fact that I can't walk; my disability is the fact that the bus company only provides buses which are inaccessible". The social model recognises that environment produces discrimination—the medical model merely describes impairment.
The Joint Select Committee recognised all the advantages of adopting the social model, but we took the pragmatic view that it would be difficult to use this Bill, which is based on the medical model, to insert a general and a social model of disability into the Bill, thereby almost certainly delaying its introduction substantially.
A lot of the problems associated with disability discrimination would be overcome by focusing on the act of discrimination and not the extent of impairment. We hope that the Disability Rights Commission will concentrate on this approach when reviewing the operation of the Act.
Although the Bill is extremely welcome, I turn briefly to another area where many of its provisions could be improved. As the Minister pointed out, Clauses 2 and 3 make it unlawful for a public authority to discriminate against a disabled person in carrying out its functions. They place a new and positive statutory duty on public authorities when carrying out their functions. This is clearly very welcome. However, the Select Committee, reflecting the very weighty evidence that we received, recommended that alongside the duty to provide equality of opportunity, there should be an equivalent duty to promote good relations between disabled and non-disabled people.
I have read with great care the Government's response in rejecting this recommendation. But sadly, as I lack any qualification in linguistic philosophy, I could not make head or tail of it. I hope that the Minister will explain exactly what the Government meant when they said that the recommendation to promote good relations between disabled and non-disabled people was not acceptable.
The Minister, Maria Eagle, was extremely helpful when she met the Joint Select Committee. On this particular matter, it is worth quoting her comments, which appear on page 265 of the evidence volume. She said:If somebody can explain to me why this is necessary and what good it would do and how it would work then I am perfectly willing to listen to it. I think there are differences in this legislation and other equality legislation which makes this less relevant in respect of disability, but obviously I am willing to be persuaded".My noble friend will not be surprised to learn that amendments will be tabled to try to persuade the Government to change their stance on this matter. If the words "promote good relations" create a problem, I am 681 sure that we can think of alternatives. One example would be "promoting the social inclusion of disabled people".
Other noble Lords will wish to raise other matters, such as landlord and tenant, transport and education, so I shall not go into any detail on them. To add to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, the one aspect of daily life that causes the most frustration for disabled people is the lack of accessible transport. Journeys which to non-disabled people are quite straightforward become major exercises in logistics, and disabled people need to do much forward planning for every journey they make.
This Bill is very welcome. It goes a long way to dismantle many of the barriers that face disabled people in their daily lives. As always, this House will examine it, with its usual ability to explore and improve. I am equally sure that the House will do nothing to impede its speedy progress on to the statute book.
§ 4 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Salisbury
My Lords, I, too, welcome the proposals to extend the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and in particular the opportunity to express the hope that the shift in focus of disability anti-discrimination legislation should be on the act of discrimination, rather than on the nature and extent of a person's impairment—that is to say, the "social" rather than the "medical" focus, as the Joint Committee on the Bill puts it. Where are the barriers to full participation in our common life?
In response to these proposals, I wish to make two points. The first is in support of moving to the social focus—the focus on discrimination. Discriminating between people is not, however, merely a social matter; there is something much deeper. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition and its framework, within which our culture and legislation are formed, there is a developed understanding of each human person as made in the divine image. That means that we are to look at each person as a reflection in some sense of the godhead, and to be valued for that. The Judaic blessing to be said on seeing a disabled or deformed person says:Blessed are thou, Lord God, king of the universe, who variest the forms of thy creatures".So we are to look at each person in this positive light, not only for who they are but for what they can contribute, not in isolation but as members of our social community. That is why I am particularly concerned that we pay attention to the question of the barriers, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has just described them.
My second point is that, because of what I have just said, it is in the social context of schools, hospitals and prisons and in places of social interaction that the practicalities of this Bill are so significant. We need to ensure—and here I shall use the example of deaf persons—that those people have adequate and rapid access to those who can sign in an appropriate language. I highlight the problems posed by deaf people because there is nothing so isolating as deafness. The profoundly hard of hearing cannot 682 engage socially, as can those who can hear, partly because this disability is so superficially invisible. It is for that reason that the Churches place this disability on the top of their agenda for disabled people. Indeed, the Church of England has special chaplains for deaf people, and special deaf churches.
The problems raised by that constituency highlight an important series of social engagements at key moments in people's lives. I hope that the developed legislation will take account of those engagements and describe in some way how they are to be handled. First, there are problems when deaf people are in contact with the police. Because such events happen at a moment's notice, it is not always possible to ensure the kind of provision that one can perhaps ensure in a more settled institution, when people book in and make appointments. How are we going to help the police to develop a pattern of advice and consultancy that is rapidly and readily available?
Similarly, in the criminal justice system, there are potential problems for those who are deaf and hard of hearing. That may also apply to those from ethnic minorities for whom English is not their second or perhaps even their third language—as well as, more obviously, for those who are deaf. I know that there has been some difficulty for members of the prison chaplaincy service in enabling the deaf chaplains who work in the diocese to gain access to prisons. In the past that has certainly not always been an easy point to resolve with the Home Office and the Prison Service. I hope that some thought and advice will be given, in the wake of the legislation, to making that possible.
Hospitals represent another social context in which deaf persons in particular need to be sure that they have understood what patterns of treatment are being proposed. We need to give our formal consent, as adults, to any proposed treatment, and people are overawed by the context of hospitals anyway. If people cannot understand what is being proposed at such key points in their lives, when informed decisions need to be made, that is another area in which they need enormous degrees of support.
In education, visible access to school buildings and centres for night school and college is, of course, important. But what provisions are there for education for those who are particularly hard of hearing? Where are the thresholds and barriers that make it difficult for people to gain access to education provisions and skills—people who may have a very developed intellectual life and, indeed, may need it much more than perhaps we do, because they are deprived of other forms of social interaction?
Within the framework of all the disability discrimination legislation., I hope that the Minister will consider the details of all those social contexts, as the detail of the new legislation takes visible shape in Committee. I hope that in summing up, she will be able to say what particular action the Government will take in the particular areas that I mentioned, especially for the deaf and hard of hearing.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Lord Ashley of Stoke
My Lords, the first thing that I want to do is warmly to congratulate the Government on the Bill. It helps to fill a yawning gap in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995—in fact, a number of yawning gaps—and firmly establishes new rights for Britain's disabled people. That is a great thing, and the Government deserve a pat on the back.
I would like to express my appreciation to the Ministers concerned, particularly the Secretary of State, Alan Johnson, Maria Eagle, the Minister for Disabled People, and our own noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, for their assiduous work on the Bill. There was a great deal of discussion before the Bill appeared, and I know what a heavy load the Ministers have had in introducing these measures. Progress on the Bill has also been helped by the task force, and the joint scrutiny committee, chaired by the inimitable noble Lord, Lord Carter. So there has been no shortage of consultation. For that matter, there has been no shortage of first-class briefings, particularly from the Disability Rights Commission and the organisations which make up the Disability Charities Consortium.
There are many very welcome proposals mentioned by my noble friend Lady Hollis. The ones that I particularly welcome are the provision for promoting disability equality in the public sector, the extension of the DDA for most duties of public authorities, new rights for disabled tenants, improvements for mental health service users, and new rights to use public transport, as well as various others. Their combined effect will have an enormous impact on the lives of millions of disabled people.
For all that, the Bill could be improved. For example, I was sorry to see that of the joint scrutiny committee's 75 admirable proposals, much more than half have not been accepted by the Government. Since the joint committee's proposals would have further extended the rights of disabled people, a good opportunity has been missed by the Government.
In the course of our debates, especially in Committee, we shall be able to explain our reservations and suggestions for improvements. But having said that, I must frankly explain our dilemma. This Bill is so necessary to combat the wretched discrimination faced daily by many disabled people, and it is so good that we want to get it through without delay. The All-Party Disability Group, which welcomes the Bill, has, with others, been pressing for it for years, and to delay it now would be a very bitter blow indeed. Therefore, we do not want any undue delay even though we want to put forward suggestions for improving the Bill. We want to see the improvements. I hope that the dialogue we have with the Government means we have a speedy resolution of these controversial points.
Although the Bill extends the DDA duties on landlords and management companies, and obliges them to make reasonable adjustments to policies, practices and procedures, it does not provide tenants with a definite right to make reasonable adaptations. That right is absolutely crucial. Without that right disabled people lack freedom in their own homes. Permanent restrictions 684 are imposed on their living quarters. The house becomes a prison rather than a home. I hope that the Government will reconsider the Bill and move to prevent landlords from unreasonably withholding consent for changes. Nothing could be fairer than that.
The Bill's proposal to impose a duty on the public sector to promote equality for disabled people is very welcome. However, there are some disturbing unofficial reports that schools are to be exempted. Perhaps my noble friend will tell me whether there is any substance in those unofficial reports. To my mind this simply does not make sense. Schools are unambiguously part of the public sector and none could be more important than them for formulating future attitudes to disabled people.
I want the Government to act swiftly and comprehensively on this issue. By "comprehensively" I mean it will not be good enough if schools are to be given a general duty rather than the detailed specific duty imposed on others. The general duty would simply mean that schools would not have to produce an invaluable disability equality scheme so they could not be compelled to comply. Apart from that, the omission of schools sends the wrong message to the public—a message that in the Government's view improving relations is not important and that the public sector need not bother. That is a lamentable message. I hope that it will not go out from this Government. It is unacceptable and I very much hope that my noble friend can help us.
The Bill's welcome proposal to make the public sector promote equality of opportunity makes it all the more strange that the Government have refused also to impose a duty to promote good relations between disabled and non-disabled people in the public sector, as was mentioned by my noble friend a moment ago. This is a serious omission because the level of hostility to disabled people, apart from and in addition to discrimination, is really appalling, even today. The public sector could play a very important role in easing the tension and building up good relations if the Government were prepared to bring back the idea of promoting good relations. My noble friend Lord Carter wants an explanation of why the Government did not include that provision. I hope that my noble friend will not try to justify the Government's stand to my noble friend Lord Carter. Rather she should say, "We will introduce the measure". That would satisfy me, my noble friend Lord Carter and all the other speakers in this debate. It would be a nice, simple, easy solution. I offer it with the best intentions in the world.
As regards transport, I am at a loss to understand why the Government are insisting on setting the rail end date at the year 2020. Is that acceptable? By 2017 the train companies will have had nearly 20 years to make their trains accessible. The Government are leaning over backwards to oblige them, but in doing so they are simply adding to the frustration of disabled people who suffer endless inconvenience when using public transport. I hope very much to see a change of end date.
On the issue of mental illness, I am delighted that the Government have made excellent changes, but I think they are being unrealistic by insisting on retaining the 685 12-month qualifying period in cases of depression. Everyone, even laymen, knows that depression is often intermittent and episodes may not last for a 12-month period. The sooner the false test is dropped, the better.
The final point I wish to make on the Bill is that I am sorry there is no provision for independent living for disabled people. This is the next main aim and would be of enormous benefit to disabled people. In essence, independent living means that disabled people have a right to choose who helps them and who they live with; a right to make choices and to live in the community, not in residential care.
When this Bill goes through we shall monitor its detailed provisions very carefully and seek to ensure full implementation, thereby enriching the lives of millions of disabled people. I again warmly congratulate my noble friend Lady Hollis and her colleagues. I wish the Bill Godspeed.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Lord Rix
My Lords, I rise to welcome this Bill and am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this very important Second Reading debate.
I would like to declare an interest as president of the Royal Mencap Society and as a member of the joint parliamentary committee which scrutinised the draft Bill under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Carter.
I have no doubt that this legislation has the potential to make a very significant difference to the lives of disabled people. The public sector duty alone could transform society for the better if properly implemented and resourced.
But the theme of my speech today, which I regret to say is a trifle longer than is my wont, is the need for this Bill to touch the lives of all disabled people and particularly one of the most excluded of all groups—people with a learning disability.
There are 1.5 million people in the United Kingdom with a learning disability—that is around 15 per cent of the total population of disabled people. Of this 1.5 million, only about 10 per cent of working age have paid work—as against about 50 per cent of disabled people generally.
Around 90 per cent of people with a learning disability will also have been bullied in the past year—two-thirds on a regular basis. Again this is compared to an already utterly disgraceful 50 per cent of disabled people generally (according to the most recent DRC survey which was undertaken in Scotland).
It will not surprise the Minister that the need for this Bill to tackle hate crimes is something I will return to later in my speech, and no doubt will return to at considerable length at Committee stage.
People with a learning disability also have significantly poorer health and are much more likely to die before the age of 50 than the general population. Yet, despite this, people with a learning disability have much greater difficulty accessing appropriate healthcare services.
686 I am painting this picture of a group of people who for many years have been among the most socially excluded of disability groups, who have always been the group to miss out on advances in disability rights, who have always been the group that it is deemed acceptable to ignore, because I would like your Lordships to keep this in mind as I turn to two major proposals in this Bill—the removal of the public transport exemption and the public sector duty to promote equality.
I first turn to public transport. Much has been made of how important the removal of the exemption on public transport will be for disabled people. I do not wish to downplay its significance.
For disabled people in particular, inaccessible public transport has a major negative impact on their independence, social participation, employability and health. And for many disabled people the removal of this exemption holds the key to social inclusion. As such, it has to be warmly welcomed, and, as already mentioned, the Government announced last Monday, 29 November, that their preferred end date by which all rail vehicles will have to meet the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 1998 is 2020. My preferred date, as well as the DRC's and that of the Joint Committee is 2017, although I shall then be aged 93 and if I am still around by then I do not suppose that I shall be using the trains very much. If the fares keep rocketing, I do not suppose many other senior citizens will be either; certainly not disabled people, with the costs at the moment.
The surveys show that among the things that matter most to people with a learning disability are signs and travel information that can be easily understood; audio and visual information on hoard trains and buses, and proper disability awareness training for transport staff.
I have heard time and again that this Bill is the culmination of many years of work and that it marks the end of a process of fulfilling the Government's pledge to disabled people on public transport. But for all this talk of fully accessible public transport, this Bill will do absolutely nothing to improve audio and visual route and destination information on board buses, which incidentally is the mode of transport that people with a learning disability most want to take. I am realistic enough to know that we are not going to get any movement in this area through this Bill. That battle was lost well before the Bill was even in draft form.
However, I would like reassurance that if a train or bus already has audio-visual equipment on board, that transport staff would have a duty to ensure that it works; that it is on and that it is set at the right volume and for the right destination. I would like reassurance that the Government will heed the Joint Committee's recommendation to ensure that the installation of audio-visual equipment on board trains will also be made a priority through this Bill.
What of proper disability awareness training for transport staff? Have you seen how many of them behave towards learning-disabled potential passengers 687 at bus stops? Many people with a learning disability may have difficulty speaking, difficulty understanding a complex timetable, or difficulty working out the right money to pay for their fares. This can lead to impatient transport staff and passengers being rude to them, bullying them, or even refusing to allow them on board the bus or the train.
The Government have said that bringing transport services under Part 3 will mean that transport operators will need to have proper disability awareness training. I very much hope that is the case, and I look forward to the Minister providing reassurance that people with non-physical disabilities, who often have very different needs, will not simply be considered as an afterthought, or indeed not considered at all.
I am sure that the Minister would agree with me that it is just as important that transport staff are trained properly on how to recognise and deal fairly and sympathetically with the difficulties faced by people with non-physical disabilities, as it is for them to be trained properly on how to deal with physically disabled passengers.
As such, I hope that any guidance and information that the Department for Transport produces to assist transport operators, and any codes of practice that the DRC produces in conjunction with the Department for Transport, will comprehensively consider the needs of people with non-physical disabilities.
I turn now to the second major proposal in this Bill, that of the public sector duty to promote equality. Again, I would like to stress the theme of my speech; the need for this Bill to help all groups of disabled people. The first issue that I wanted to bring up in relation to the public sector duty is the very important point raised by the Joint Committee in its report; that of independent advocacy.
I am hoping that the Minister will be able to provide a reassurance that where the public sector duty clause states that there is,the need to take steps to take account of disabled persons' disabilities, even where that involves treating disabled persons more favourably than other persons".I hope that is an oblique reference to the need for people with a learning disability, and anyone else with support needs or communication difficulties, to have appropriate access to an independent advocate as required. If it is such an oblique reference, and it does mean that, then the Government are to be warmly congratulated, as the Minister will know that I and a number of my colleagues feel very strongly about this issue.
Another issue that I wanted to raise in relation to the public sector duty is one that I am sure the Minister is going to hear many, many times in the next few weeks; that is, the duty to promote good relations. I quoted some of the latest statistics on hate crimes against disabled people at the beginning of my speech, and the Minister will be well aware of the now overwhelming evidence, so I will not dwell on it. What is clear is that 688 tackling hate crimes, and the causes of hate crimes, on an individual-by-individual reactive basis is never going to solve the problem. We have through this Bill a golden opportunity proactively to tackle this issue, but it will be missed if the public sector duty remains unamended.
For as long as disabled people cannot go outside their own homes for fear of being attacked, for fear of being spat at, for fear of being ignored, of being harassed, of being picked on, of being beaten up, then we might as well just bin the rest of this Bill right now, because it will not make one iota of difference to the lives of disabled people, for whom hate crimes are an everyday occurrence.
Frankly, I really do not mind whether we use a good relations duty, as recommended by the Joint Committee, or something else to fill this clear policy gap, as long as we fill it. Again, I stress that this is something about which I feel very strongly; it is something about which the Joint Committee felt very strongly; and about which I know the whole of the disability community feels very strongly. As such, I trust that the Minister is open to being convinced of the need for an explicit duty proactively to tackle hate crimes, the causes of hate crimes, and to fill this policy gap.
I will leave comments on the very important issues of healthcare and education in relation to the public sector duty to others, and instead raise as my final point the issue of employment. I mentioned at the beginning of my speech that people with a learning disability are five times less likely than disabled people generally to have paid jobs. Levels of employment among people with a learning disability may well have actually fallen since the Valuing People White Paper was published, even though raising employment rates is one of its key goals. This is despite the fact that people with a learning disability who could do paid work are indeed very anxious to do it.
Again, my plea to the Minister is to provide disability campaigners with the reassurance that the public sector duty will make it clear to employers that "all" really must mean all disabled people, and that the codes of practice will reflect this. It is absolutely vital that parity in employment levels is established between disability groups, and it is absolutely vital that all disabled people who want a job and can do a job should have a job.
I conclude my comments now by saying that I do not want your Lordships or the Minister to be left with the feeling that I have become an old and cynical curmudgeon; I really have not. I remain optimistic that this Bill has the potential dramatically to transform the lives of disabled people, and that this time the 1.5 million people with a learning disability will not be left behind again as the disability rights train vanishes into the distance.
There is an old German proverb: "it is a bad bridge which is shorter than the stream is wide". For what seems like an eternity, people with disabilities have been faced with such a bridge. Successive governments have endeavoured to complete the construction work, 689 and this Bill makes yet another attempt. We must all help the engineers to finish the job on time and with an adequate budget to make it all possible.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Baroness Murphy
My Lords, I shall be brief, not least because my carefully crafted notes were left in the taxi on the way here, which does not half concentrate the mind on the key points.
I welcome the Bill, as have others, and wish it a speedy passage. I should like to draw attention to two issues, both relating to the disability of mental health disorders. The first has been tackled by other speakers, and the report of the scrutiny committee, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, also wrestled with it. It relates to the description in Schedule 1 of incapacities with regard to the activities of daily living. This Bill, like many others that come before the House relating to health issues, is almost solely framed around physical disabilities, with mental health issues thrown in as an afterthought.
I am afraid that I am going to sound like one of those CDs which is stuck in a rut because of a scratch. However, I turn to the issue of the definition of mental incapacity, which will be raised in several forthcoming Bills.
The human brain is not simply so many gigabytes of computing power, and intellectual competence is only one influence on the activities of daily life. Perceptions, emotions, disordered motivation, and inability to tackle things because of a lack of will are equally important. Drive and disturbance of drive simply do not figure in the list. Humane tribunals address those issues by incorporating disabilities under headings, but that simply will not do any more. Other countries can get it right, and we should, too.
The second point is about the qualifying issues of mental health, which were alluded to in the scrutiny committee's report. I want to describe a very common situation where an individual has a severe mental health problem, such as a hypomania or depression that lasts for three to four months. That often requires hospitalisation but, within that time, the person is often fit to return to work. We know many cases where those individuals are excluded from taking full part in employment when they have employment, or lose employment because of stigma attached to people's expectations of their capacity, not because of the reality.
Such people, currently and in the future if the Bill remains as it is, will have no course of action in redress. It is a great missed opportunity not to address that, particularly in the light of the fact that the Bill has recognised that stigma attached to MS, cancers and HIV/AIDS can be taken into account without impact on the activities of daily life. If that is so for them, surely it should be so for the commoner and often more disabling mental health problems.
690 I apologise to the House; I may have to leave before the closing speeches. However, I wanted to mention those issues in relation to mental health. I look forward very much to staying with the passage of the Bill and hope that those issues can be addressed.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, I welcome the Bill, as lately so much has been spoken of the right to die. Jane Campbell is a commissioner for the Disability Rights Commission and is severely disabled. She thinks that society's view is that death is preferable for severely disabled people such as herself, saying:I am more concerned that everyone has the right to live".Many disabled people fear being admitted to hospital because they may not be resuscitated or may be left to die without being given food and fluids.
In the shadows of Shipman, it is understandable that severely disabled people fear that they may be discriminated against in hospital or at the surgery, as there is so much pressure on the National Health Service. A new duty on public authorities requiring them, when exercising their functions, to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination against and harassment of disabled persons, and to promote equality of opportunity between disabled persons and others, is most welcome.
Legislation is often conflicting. Severely disabled people going into hospital for diagnoses often encounter very difficult problems. Hospital staff may say that they cannot lift patients on to X-ray tables or examination plinths. If they cannot lift them, suitable equipment should be provided to overcome those problems. It is possible to have equipment that moves up and down to a convenient height, to enable patients to move across if they use a wheelchair. If the plinths or X-ray tables do not move—some do not—hoists should be provided.
I am president of the Spinal Injuries Association. Recently our chief executive, who is a paraplegic, was taken to Southampton's A&E department when he developed autonomic dysreflexia—dangerously high blood pressure. He had to wait one and a half hours before being able to get off the trolley, because an ambulance crew had to finish a shift before they got him off. One hears of many such cases, which cause distress and are quite unnecessary if thought and planning goes into providing disabled people with what they need.
Recently my husband, who is very ill, had to go to the A&E department for a procedure, and I telephoned in advance to advise the staff that he would need a hoist. They said that they had one. When he arrived, the battery was flat and it did not work. No one had bothered to check. Disabled people find that sort of thing time and again. I can see problems arising in trying to distinguish discrimination from inefficiency. If the legislation makes people sit up, consider the needs and plan accordingly, it will have served a useful purpose.
I am pleased that HIV/AIDS, cancer and MS are included in the legislation. That makes me query a problem of double incontinence on which I would like an 691 answer in due course, if possible, from the Department of Health. Primary care trusts supply incontinence pads and paper sheets—inco-sheets—which are vital for those who need them. When talking to the firm that supplies them for my PCT, I was told that only the people who had previously got them would have them, not newly disabled people or those who had deteriorated. That seems ridiculous. For someone with constant diarrhoea who may have HIV/AIDS and cryptosporidium, which causes diarrhoea, or someone who for any reason is doubly incontinent, paper sheets are invaluable. If PCTs would realise how costly pressure sores are to the NHS, they would supply those necessary aids on need. Pressure sores cost the NHS millions of pounds a year. That seems yet another form of discrimination within the NHS.
I welcome genuine mental illness being included in this legislation, but there is a wasteful culture of sick notes being given out willy-nilly by GPs to people who say that they suffer from stress or depression. Doctors find that the easy way out is to give sick notes without proper diagnosis, and employers can do nothing about it. Is there any way to prevent that culture becoming exacerbated through the Bill?
Will the Department for Transport's voluntary code for air travel and trains now become mandatory? The Spinal Injuries Association would be pleased to give case evidence of people who have had problems, so that better services were available. The handlers who help disabled people on and off aeroplanes have not recently been as good as they used to be. The moving and handling has often been better at foreign airports, with better trained personnel doing the job. With pressure of space on airlines, tall and big people can have serious leg problems. Will they be covered by this legislation? Perhaps they will be only if they have a disability.
On the diesel trains of GNER it is impossible to put a wheelchair into the wheelchair space in a first-class compartment, as the seat sticks out and makes the entrance too narrow. Will improvements be made to that? It seems ridiculous to have a space which cannot be used.
Some of the out of London taxi firms are not willing to invest in their fleets until there are more details. There do not seem to be any overall standards. More training and training videos should be available for all manner of people who provide much-needed transport for disabled people.
I am pleased that private clubs are included in the legislation. I hope that clubs such as Whites and Brooks in London will rectify their lifts, which are far too small to accommodate disabled people in wheelchairs.
There are now several Acts of Parliament that involve disability and the legislation has become fragmented. Have the Government any plans to consolidate it? It would be helpful for those people who have to administrate the legislation. That part of the DDA which came into force in October has already made a difference. Our local bank in Masham has built 692 a ramp which has provided accessibility for the first time for people using wheelchairs. That happened just before 1 October, when I visited the bank for the first time. Therefore, legislation does make a difference and I hope that this legislation will, too.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ The Earl of Listowel
My Lords, I warmly welcome the Bill. I hesitate to take part in this disability legislation, given the immense depth of experience of many noble Lords who are taking part in the debate. I do so because of my particular interest in children in local authority care and the difference that the Bill could make for their lives. I also thank the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Children's Society for helpful briefings in preparation for this debate.
My concerns are threefold: that psychiatric disorders are fully recognised in the Bill, an issue to which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, drew attention; that specific duties are put on schools to ensure that disability discrimination is tackled; and that the duration of mental disorders, such as depression, will be recognised adequately in the Bill.
Perhaps I may give an example of what happens in the care system. Some 60 per cent of the 60,000 children and young people in local authority care in this country have arrived due to previous abuse. A further 10 per cent have arrived in care due to family breakdown. Not surprisingly, the level of mental disorder among that group is 40 per cent for those in foster care, and 68 per cent of the 6,000 children in residential care have mental disorders as a result of their previous experiences.
Schools exclude 10 to 12 times more looked-after children than other children. So it is important to ensure that specific duties are placed on schools to ensure that those children's disabilities are also recognised. There is already good guidance from Her Majesty's Government on how to cater for the needs of those children through designated teachers and personal education plans. But the Social Exclusion Unit's report into the education of these children highlighted the fact that such important tools are not consistently implemented. The Bill could be a useful lever to ensure that there is more focus on the training of teachers so that such disabilities are recognised and that the mechanisms are fully implemented.
Last week, I attended a conference on the education of looked-after children. There was a presentation by a 24 year-old member of A National Voice, which is staffed by and speaks out for care leavers. He recounted his experiences in education. He left school with no qualifications, apart from a low level one. He said that he had been depressed and spent too much of his time in bed in his children's home, unable to find the will—my noble friend Lady Murphy alluded to this point—to go out of the home and into education. More might well have been done to help his disability of depression, when he was out of those bouts of depression, by ensuring that he obtained some educational experience. Many have the same experience and, regrettably, leave without any education or with few educational attainments. 693 Therefore, they are likely to be unemployed and are vastly over-represented in the criminal justice system, because their emotional needs have not been met and they have not attained the educational qualifications they need to engage in the work market.
I hope that we will look carefully at the proper definition of mental disorders. I hope that the Bill will mark a change in the culture, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, said in her opening speech, and that Clause 3, which addresses the wider policies of public authorities in such areas, can begin to make a difference.
Your Lordships may have recently viewed the "Dispatches" programme on Channel 4, "Profiting from kids in care". It was deeply depressing. One of the journalists managed to obtain access to a children's home for children with Down's syndrome and other disabilities, without an ID check at the front door or a Criminal Records Bureau check before entering. The programme also concerned other children in local authority care and the childcare professional who was invited to comment on the issues raised said, at the end of the programme, that the least qualified, untrained staff were actually working in the front line with the most difficult and challenging children.
I hope that there are things that can be done and the Government are doing much to improve matters in this area. But we are starting from a low base. In Scotland, the Scottish Institute for Residential Childcare provides excellent training and consultancy for children's homes. We do not have that facility in England. Perhaps we could move towards that. Almost uniformly on the Continent, staff working in such situations have qualifications—two to three years' professional education and training—to work in such environments. They work not only with children but with elderly people. The situation is similar for elderly people with dementia in residential homes, where unqualified and untrained staff work. Again, the possibility of greater recognition of what it means to have a psychiatric disorder, and the need for professional responses to that, which the Bill offers, is welcome.
I hope that in her response the Minister will reassure the House that specific duties will be placed on schools to ensure that the outcomes that we wish for are arrived at and that she will also allude to the duration of mental disorders such as depression. I look forward to the Minister's response.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Baroness Wilkins
My Lords, I am conscious that I am surrounded by noble Lords who are steeped in the history of this Bill. It is to them that the country owes a real debt of gratitude for promoting, over the past quarter of a century, 14 major efforts at legislation to protect Britain's disabled people from discrimination. In particular, my noble friends Lord Ashley of Stoke and Lord Morris of Manchester have never let this issue stray far from the Government's attention. I am only sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, cannot be with us today.
694 Like all previous speakers, I greatly welcome the Bill. The Disability Rights Commission rightly said that it,represents a major extension of civil rights for 10 million disabled people in the UK and the fulfilment of a key Government manifesto commitment to implement outstanding recommendations of the Disability Rights Task Force".The Minister in another place, Maria Eagle, has won great respect in the disability community for her commitment to the Bill and to the difficult issues that it tackles. She has championed the Bill so effectively that, amidst all the competing demands for legislation from other government departments, it has won pride of place in being the first Bill to come to your Lordships' House in the new parliamentary Session. This Government can be truly proud of their record in tackling discrimination against disabled people.
The measure which I particularly welcome is the public sector duty in Clause 3, described by the DRC as the "centrepiece" of the Bill. It is obviously sensible to try to ensure that, when public bodies make decisions or develop or implement a new policy, they make consideration of the needs of disabled people an integral part of the policy-making or decision-making process. That is so much better than waiting for disabled people to suffer some harm and then expecting individuals to pursue the matter through the courts in order lo rectify the discrimination.
Over the past year, I have been involved with a best value review of disability services in my borough, Hammersmith & Fulham. The review has laid bare almost a decade of good intentions and well thought through plans which have never come to fruition because the political imperative has moved on and interest has shifted. Considerable expenditure and months of hard work came to nothing because there was no duty on the local authority to promote disability equality. That has now changed with regard to race issues in the borough since the public sector duty formed part of the Race Relations Act. I believe that the inclusion of this duty for disability in Clause 3 will make a real difference to disabled people's lives. It could not be more welcome.
I was honoured to be invited to join the Joint Committee on the draft Disability Discrimination Billl—a committee which had two major advantages. First, it had an excellent chairman in my noble friend Lord Carter, who brought to it the wealth of his personal and political experience of disability issues, together with his expertise in chairing the recent Joint Scrutiny Committee on the draft Mental Capacity Bill. Secondly, we had the benefit of two outstanding specialist advisers, Dr Jenny Morris and Barbara Cohen, whose clarity of thinking and freshness of approach were invaluable.
As my noble friend Lord Carter said, the Government accepted a great number of the Joint Committee's recommendations. It was particularly pleasing that they agreed to remove the requirement for a mental illness to be "clinically well recognised" for it to fit the definition of disability.
Obviously it is very disappointing that a number of the Joint Committee's recommendations were not accepted by the Government. I hope that we shall manage to convince my noble friend the Minister by our arguments 695 when amendments are brought forward at later stages of the Bill. In particular, those will cover the issues of the definition of disability for people with mental health problems and the right of tenants to make reasonable adaptations to the physical features of their homes. I shall come back to those in a moment.
I, too, want to draw attention to one early recommendation made by the Joint Committee, and I am delighted by the support that it has already received in this debate. I refer to Recommendation 9, which resulted from our discussions around the social model of disability. The recommendation is not as forceful as the disability movement might have wished but, in effect, it says that the Disability Rights Commission should consult and make recommendations to the Government on developing a social model definition of disability for the DDA, focusing on challenging discrimination on grounds of impairment and removing disabling barriers.
I believe that that represents a major step in the recognition of the concept which has driven the disability movement since the early 1970s. The realisation that it is not our impairment that limits our opportunities and life chances but the way that society reacts to that impairment was a concept which liberated disabled people and formed the basis of the disability movement. It was that understanding which provided the groundswell demanding anti-discrimination legislation to which so many in the Chamber today listened and gave effect.
It was 29 years ago this month that Vic Finkelstein first publicised on television the concept of the social model with his story of a disabled village. For a public accustomed to stories of plucky cripples facing the tragedy of their lives, it was not what they were expecting. He described a village designed for wheelchair users which "disabled" everyone else with its low ceilings and its institutional discrimination against those who walked. It forms part of my private litany of proud moments that this appeared on the first recording of the "Link" television programme, and I declare an interest as its first presenter.
Vic Finkelstein was a South African disabled activist, recently exiled by the apartheid regime, who had recognised the connections between the segregated treatment of black people and the treatment of disabled people. In truth, in the early days there was considerable resistance to this new concept—we were so entrenched in the medical model. It takes considerable time for society to alter its fundamental concepts and it takes even longer for those concepts to be enshrined in legislation. That is why the Joint Committee's recommendation is so significant. The Disability Rights Commission has said that it intends to honour this recommendation "long term'', and we must not let its huge workload before the establishment of the single equality commission eclipse that commitment.
It is because the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 is based on the medical model of disability that clearly disabled people are caused many difficulties in meeting the definition of "disability" under the Act. In particular, mental health service users have faced the biggest hurdles 696 in claiming their rights under the DDA because the definition of disability inadequately captures the challenges that they face.
I welcome Clause 17, which removes the need for a mental impairment to be "medically well recognised". However, I want to give my noble friend the Minister notice that amendments will be brought forward in Committee to end the remaining bias towards physical impairments, as she has already heard today. In particular, the list of day-to-day capacities causes major problems, and the requirement for a mental impairment to have a substantial, adverse and longterm effect often excludes cases of depression where typically the effect is severe but short term.
The other area that we shall want to pursue is the right for disabled tenants and leaseholders not to be unreasonably refused consent to make vital physical adaptations to their homes to enable them to get through the front door and move around safely. This is an urgent matter. The Survey of English Housing 2001–02 showed that 18,000 disabled people were living in unsuitable accommodation because the landlord refused to let them make the necessary modifications. It is an issue which my noble friend Lady Darcy and I pursued during the passage of the recent Housing Act, and the Government recognised that there was a gap in the law for which a solution must be found.
While we obviously have a considerable amount to debate in the weeks ahead, I trust that the Bill will find its way swiftly on to the statute book. It is urgently needed to rectify some of the most obvious and disabling problems relating to the DDA. It is also vital that there is sufficient time for these new measures to bed down and become accepted before the Disability Rights Commission becomes incorporated into the promised Commission for Equality and Human Rights. I wish it good speed.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Darcy de Knayth
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, on her masterly exposition of a Bill which is very difficult to read but which is hugely welcomed by disabled people and disability organisations. As others have said, it will have a major impact on the life chances of disabled people. It closes many gaps in anti-discrimination law. I congratulate the Government and the Joint Committee on the draft Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, said, it shows how valuable the scrutiny process is, particularly by a committee composed of people who really know their subject. I agree very much that it is important to get the Bill on to the statute book before the end of the Session.
It has been a long journey, as my noble friend Lady Wilkins said, and there is still some way to go before complete anti-discrimination law is achieved. It was in 1979 that CORAD, the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People, was set up by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, and chaired by Sir Peter Large. In 1982, it reported to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, who was then the first 697 Minister with responsibility for disabled people, on the need for anti-discrimination legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, truly is one of the grandfathers of this Bill and of the 1995 Act. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said, the Government brought in the 1999 Act and other pieces of legislation, which have further improved anti-discrimination law. I too am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, is not in his place. He sends his apologies.
I emphasise that the Bill is hugely welcomed by all disabled people. I shall pick a few areas on which to comment and on which we think we may need to bring forward amendments. As the twelfth speaker, I have done a certain amount of amending and slashing of my speech, so I hope that it makes sense.
Clause 1 contains the very important provisions that make it unlawful for listed, locally electable authorities to discriminate against their members in the carrying out of official business. That is welcome. Like the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, I too regret that the new provisions do not apply, for example, to the election or appointment of officers to an authority and appointments to any other body to which an authority has the power to nominate, such as a police authority.
Sir Peter Large points out that those are exactly the areas where unfair discrimination is likely to occur. I hope that the Minister will say why such areas are excluded and whether she will reconsider the point. One of the most significant improvements that the Bill would bring about is extending the prohibition of discrimination by public authorities to cover virtually all public functions and services.
Clause 2, together with, as my noble friend Lady Wilkins said, the hugely important Clause 3— the public sector duty to promote disability equality—is a major step forward and should make a huge difference to disabled people's lives. Can the Minister confirm that those clauses will deal with the problems, for example, of huge pedestrianised schemes where there is no parking near enough for disabled people? Will they also cover footpaths, towpaths and bridges? The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, will remember only too well the copious correspondence between herself, me and the Minister responsible for disabled people about footbridges over rivers. I see the Minister nodding. I would very much welcome that.
That issue seemed to be a grey area. The question was whether highway authorities were acting as service providers in maintaining and ensuring access to footpaths and bridges, or whether that was a part of their regulatory functions and, therefore, not covered by Part 3 of the DDA. Can the Minister assure the House that this Bill will put an end to the uncertainty once and for all? I would welcome her saying something about that in her summing up. If there is uncertainty, please will she consider adding a clause to make the position absolutely clear?
Of particular interest to me is the position of schools, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, referred specifically. The point is whether schools will be covered by the duty to promote disabled equality, not merely the general duty. I support that for the reasons given by the 698 noble Lord, Lord Ashley, which relate to the impact on children with special educational needs and their education. I hope that the Minister can confirm that schools are covered by the specific duties; otherwise we may have to pursue the matter.
I have a different point on Clause 2. I shall go into detail on this as no one else has mentioned it. The matter hangs on one word, but I believe that I should alert the House to the point so that it can be considered in Committee in case anyone else is worried about it. Clause 2(5), page 6, line 7, declares that discriminatory,Treatment, or a failure to comply with a duty, is justified … if the acts of the public authority which give rise to the treatment or failure are a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim".When he gave evidence to the Joint Committee, Sir Peter Large thought that that proviso might nullify many of the objectives or emasculate the effectiveness of Clause 2. He tells me that, notwithstanding the Government's reassurance, he still believes that. As he sees it, the problem is the word "proportionate", which involves a subjective assessment of the degree of injury between those helped by the legitimate aim and those discriminated against. It requires both an estimate of the numbers helped and the numbers likely to be affected by the legitimate aim of the authority—perfectly legitimate—and a subjective assessment of how far some had benefited from the authority's action and how much harm it had caused others.
Disabled people are in double jeopardy in all such assessments. They are always likely to be in a minority. The actual harm done to disabled people is seldom fully recognised. I shall give an example of what I am talking about. How proportionate would a pedestrianisation of a shopping centre be if it meant improvements for 500 fit pedestrians but forced 50 disabled people to shop elsewhere? Would that be proportionate? Would that be legitimate? We need to think about that.
Clause 9, on transport, is most welcome, but I join with others in saying that it should all happen earlier. I also welcome at long last the fact that it will be possible for the police, traffic wardens and particularly attendants to check blue parking badges and question those displaying them. I cannot help thinking that, if identity cards are issued, it will not be 34 years before they can be inspected by t he police.
On housing, the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, has already given notice that we shall pursue amendments, particularly on the important omission from the Bill of provisions preventing private landlords and management companies from unreasonably refusing consent to disabled people to adapt their homes and the knotty question of communal areas. I am interested to see that the Law Society briefing that arrived today said that it believed that in practice the Landlord and Tenant Act 1927, which is what the Government believe protects the situation, actually favours landlords. We shall have to pursue that in Committee.
Clause 15 is extremely welcome. It will cover bodies which award general qualifications such as GCSEs and A-levels. As the Minister said, that is something very close to my heart and of concern to Skill, the 699 National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, of which I am president. That is very good. RADAR says that there are some examining and standard-setting bodies that are not covered by the public sector duty. We may have to look into that.
I return to where I started. The Bill is hugely welcomed by many disabled people and it is very important to bring such improvements to the 1995 and 1999 Acts as soon as possible, not least because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, said, many disabled people are seriously worried that the fight to end discrimination against them will—or may—be relaxed when the proposed Commission for Equality and Human Rights is established and that the currently proposed safeguards are unlikely to succeed.
Therefore, they believe that it is essential that as much time as possible is given to allow the Bill's important additional protections for disabled people to bed in and to permeate the public consciousness so that their special needs are not forgotten in favour of the more popular and readily understood endeavours of improving community relations, equality and human rights. I hope I do not misquote her, but I believe the Minister said that she also saw the importance of the Bill being bedded in carefully before the matter was subsumed. I wish the Bill a safe and speedy passage, enhanced, I hope, with some amendments.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, we have reached the point in the Bill where everything has been said but not everybody has said it. So I shall try to be as brief as possible in adding to the discussion. First, I would like to thank the Minister for acknowledging the role of the whole of Parliament and all the people around this House in getting where we are today.
I have always felt that disability legislation is a little like a snowball; it needs the odd push but as it gets bigger and we go through the process changes will come. The first steps are always the most difficult in any journey. It is said here that every time we have taken the matter on a little further we have been able to do more. Also I believe that Whitehall and the Government have learnt that there are no limitations to the matter. The read-across for any form of legislation which deals with a basic human/civil right will affect everything else.
The most welcome part of the Bill must be Clauses 2 and 3. There we take a step on from the welcome—as it was—1995 Act. People will now be proactive. The first step forward is that we will not have to put things right in the courts. I congratulate the Minister on being the one to bring this major concept to the Floor of House. We can all gather behind the provision. However, if we are now promoting good relations I cannot help but feel that the role would be easier if we cut across society and made sure that we had access to the whole of it. We should stop looking at departmentalising disability legislation and deal with the whole of society.
As a member of the committee that looked at the draft Bill, the eyes of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, glazed over at certain points. He said, "Well, you don't 700 realise that it goes to all other parts of society when people are bringing forward legislation". Most of the people dealing with that Bill did because we knew about it from different experiences. Moving slightly away from naming every single disability group and trying to bring things together as one section is a step forward.
As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, was speaking, it occurred to me that many of the things he was saying applied also to many other groups. Autism is a group that did not get its head above the parapet in many of the discussions on the Bill. I am not absolutely sure why it did not, but we can put that right. Many considerations in autism are common to the other groupings here—for instance, problems with communication. When such issues are brought into consideration, one realises why people get worried about getting definitions right.
To jump around the Bill, I believe that Clause 17, dealing with the difficulty in communication, will plug an important gap. It is very easy for an articulate person with a disability to present himself, especially under the new climate, and being able to communicate and to make people aware of problems surrounding his rights. In this House we tend to see people who, either by ability or by luck, have managed to deal with their disability or at least to cope with it in a certain way which allows them to push themselves forwards. Most people, especially those on the edge, are able to play a full part in society with a little help and not be excluded. That is where your Lordships must focus your attention. We must allow people to pop over that edge and the help provided in this Bill will enable them to do that. It will tie them in with the rest of the Government's legislation. The reason the Government give assistance in other areas is to enable people to play a full part in society. That helps with, for instance, tax and revenue to enable them to do other things. If we draw all that together this legislation starts to make much more sense. However, there are problems within the Bill. We must draw attention to the provisions which do not allow those people to go a little further.
To go back to Clause 3, I would ask the Government to make sure that schools are covered in the Bill. Many of the major steps on disability taken in this House have been in relation to schools. Good qualifications will make it easier for the disabled to work. We should make sure that schools are tied into Clause 3. If the noble Baroness can give us an assurance and tell us how it will be done, either now or at some time in the future, she will see me quite happily throwing away the amendments that are undoubtedly being prepared. To do that will be a major step.
I turn to the rights of tenants. On the draft Bill committee we were told that the 1927 Landlord and Tenant Act covered the issue, but everybody said that it did not. We have not moved any further. If you are a tenant you should have the right to make some reasonable adjustments. There might be the caveat that one must make good, say, the decorative quality of the building after one has finished with it. Perhaps we can explore that line of compromise. But, we must 701 include a provision that removes the barrier. We must be allowed to do that within the framework of a reasonable provision.
Transport has been covered by many noble Lords. As my noble friend said, there is a balancing act between the whole of society and those who are disabled and I believe that the Government are taking steps in the right direction. However, I remember the long discussions we had on 2020 as opposed to 2017 for compliance. We asked the Government: "Is there any reason why you cannot do it?". We were told that, for example, it was inconvenient, it cost a bit more or you have to bring forward schedules of work.
I believe that one of the reasons why 2020 may well have been put to the Government as an acceptable date was because the 2005 enactment date requires 15 years for refurbishment. That is probably the reason for it. We could speed it up by those three years. There is the physical capacity within the rail industry. There will be opportunity costs, but that is the sort of question we must look at long and hard in the course of the Bill. Where do we draw the line?
However, having done that I believe that compliance certificates give a more realistic way of enforcing what is expected of the rail industry. It is a good idea. This should be dealt with in a non-criminal way with fines being imposed. That is probably a sensible way forward on agreed matters.
The Bill, as it stands, is a good thing. It could be a lot better if we just go—it is not even a mile, it is a few inches—a little further and make sure that we are more ahead of the game or at least keeping up with current thinking. If we do, other things will come from it. The central air quality commission will have an easier job. Other legislation will not have to take account of many of the things to do with disability; we will stop having to include disability issues, as we have done, in housing Bills and so on; and we will be able to carry on and take the provision as read.
The one ambition that I have ever really had is that the disability lobby can say that it is no longer campaigning. We are monitoring the Government's existing legislation to see whether it will be comprehensive enough to say that that is where we have got to. We can take a step towards that and we can go further, but I am afraid that we are not there yet.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Lord Higgins
My Lords, whenever one looks at the list of those who have put down their names to speak in debates on Second Reading in your Lordships' House, it is interesting to contemplate to what extent the message has gone out, "Round up the usual suspects". Certainly as far as concerns today's speakers, the usual suspects have all turned up—with the exception, alas, of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, whom we certainly miss from our debate today. In fact, the list is rather more than that; it is almost a roll of honour of those who are not simply expert in the field but who have given up large parts of their lives to fight the cause of the disabled. Therefore, it is with very considerable diffidence that one comes to the Dispatch Box today to wind up this particular debate.
702 It is a good thing that the debate is starting in the House of Lords after our experience on the Pensions Bill, which arrived from the Commons in a hopelessly under-debated state. If we can send it back to the Commons when we have examined it in considerable detail, that will be a good thing. I want to say a word about timing. It is almost exactly a year ago that the question first arose of why it was a draft Bill, rather than a Bill, that was proposed specifically for approval by your Lordships' House in the first instance.
I was concerned to notice that Mr Peter Hain said in another place:we discovered that the Opposition in the House of Lords is trying to block its early progress".—[Official Report, Commons 21/10/ 04; col. 1031.]That was a disgraceful statement. Nothing could be further from the truth. Only four days later, the noble Baroness paid tribute to how we were co-operating in getting the Bill through. It is important to put that firmly on the record.
Having said that, when I spoke a year or so ago when the noble Baroness the Leader of the House proposed a Joint Committee to consider the Bill, I expressed concern that that would delay it unnecessarily—or delay it, at any rate. That has turned out to be the case, but, having said that, I entirely withdraw what I said about the utility of our having considered it because, under the noble Lord, Lord Carter, the proposals have undergone considerable detailed scrutiny and we are in a much better position to deal with the Bill in Grand Committee, I understand, and later stages than we would otherwise have been.
In effect, the noble Lord's committee has provided us with an agenda and enabled us to focus—a terrible "in" word—on the key issues for consideration. There are about 75 recommendations from the Joint Committee; the Government have rejected or, at any rate, expressed doubts about some 28 of them. So we can now balance the arguments, some of which are finely balanced, between the views expressed by the Government and the Select Committee.
At this point. I ask one question. On the recommendations with which the Government agreed, will the Government be tabling amendments or will it be left to Members of the Committee and the Opposition? It would be helpful to know how we will handle that aspect of the matter.
One reason why I said a year ago that there was no reason why we should not go ahead was that the matter had, even then, been discussed for about seven years, including by the Disability Rights Task Force, and so on. A great many aspects of the matter had been cleared in advance. There are obviously further points that we will need to consider, but the other essential reason why I thought that we could proceed with speed is that there is always a balance to be hit on such issues between the problem of those who are suffering from discrimination because of disability and, on the other side, the cost that may be imposed on private industry, and so on. It is fascinating that virtually the only representation received other than support for the Bill from the Confederation of British Industry, has concerned how one should define disability by clinical 703 examination and so on. Generally speaking, there is now agreement that we can proceed, having balanced those two aspects.
I turn to particular amendments. Some are comparatively easy to deal with, such as the extent to which one can consolidate the legislation—it is certainly spread all over the place at present—and to what extent we should change the title of the Bill, and so on. Has the Scottish Parliament now confirmed that it is content that the Bill should cover Scotland as well as England and Wales?
As I said, a great many of the list of recommendations and the Government's response to them are agreed all round, including by us. I do not think that there are any on which the Government and the committee have agreed where we especially want to disagree. That is perhaps important in proceeding with the legislation as quickly as possible.
As for the specific proposals, there has been extensive debate and particular attention has focused on the issue of transport and all the problems that that involves, not least the time limit for railways, where substantial costs are obviously involved in carrying out any necessary modifications. The question of whether it is 2020 or 2017 is no doubt something that we can examine in Committee. There are other issues. The noble Lords, Lord Oakeshott, Lord Rix and Lord Ashley, all dealt with transport problems. An interesting point was made about audiovisual equipment on trains, which I take to mean Underground trains, which are rather good in that respect, as well as surface trains. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, raised the problem of airlines, which is not considered in detail at present. There are the problems with transport staff, buses and so on. We will need to consider all of those in considerable detail.
The other main area in which there is a lot of concern is how we should treat various health conditions. In particular, having extended the proposals to HIV, MS and cancer, the extent to which one should take steps at least to give the government power to exclude certain forms of cancer is a matter on which there is disagreement between the Government and the Joint Committee. We will need to consider the whole matter of progressive illnesses and particular problems concerning depression. The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, who has considerable expertise in the field, expressed concern on those issues and the difficult question of whether it should be a two-year period or the fact that a depression lasts for six months in a two-year period. Again, we will have to consider whether amendments are necessary to address those particular problems. So there is a whole range of health issues.
In a sense, the housing issues are simpler. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, and, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, expressed concern about the common parts of the accommodation that might be modified and the housing issue more generally. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, also dealt with the crucial issue of what he described as hate crime and the question of to what extent the Government can promote better relations proactively rather than passively between the disabled community and others.
704 Those are all very important issues, but I stress once again that I hope that we can make rapid progress on all of them. An interesting point is that, apart from the question of transport, where considerable cost may be involved, the regulatory impact assessment suggests that the cost involved is really quite trivial. It must be seen against the background of the number of people affected. The figure given normally is 10 million adults and, strangely, 0.7 million children—although I am not sure what is the basis for that figure. That is important and we need to consider it in some detail.
All these measures build on the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which, as my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale pointed out, was put forward by Mr William Hague when he was in the Department of Social Security. It is very important that we do all that we can to proceed on these matters as rapidly as possible—subject, of course, to noble Lords' careful consideration of the issues, particularly where there is disagreement between the Committee and the Government. I am sure that those points can be resolved. If we can do it quickly, it will be greatly to the advantage not only of disabled people but of the whole community.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, I am very grateful for the welcome given to the Bill after the pre-legislative scrutiny, although I must say that I was arrogant enough to assume that it would happen. I have been well warned and am now thoroughly terrified by all the proposals for amendments that will be forthcoming. But I take some comfort from the assertions of the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, that where the Government and the Committee agree, the Tories will not seek to sow dissension.
Many of us have personal biographies of disability; others do not. Like the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, I, too, spent a few months in a wheelchair in the late 1970s. The high spot was going to Transport House, as it was then, where the top two floors were inaccessible by lift. When everyone came there for a meeting, the call would go out, "Kent miners, Kent miners!" and men as broad as they were tall would carry the wheelchair up the last two flights. The low spot was getting the wheelchair covered in dog shit and therefore on one's clothing. I do not know how people can bear that day in day out; it is almost like moral pollution as well as physical pollution. If only dog owners knew what problems they presented to people in wheelchairs they might show greater consideration.
I shall deal first with the routine business of how we might handle the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, asked about a keeling schedule. I hope to produce an informal keeling schedule before Committee to enable a clear read-across. He asked about implementation timetables. I have details of when we expect to implement the main provisions of the Disability Discrimination Bill. Rather than read them out, I shall circulate them to all noble Lords who have taken part in today's debate.
Similarly, there is an array of different regulatory powers involving my department, the Department for Transport and the Department for Education and 705 Skills. We are producing a consultative document based on Delivering equality for disabled people. I hope that our consultation document, which describes the regulations that we propose, will be published by the end of the year, but I attach the health warning that that may not be possible. Again, I shall ensure that as soon as it is publicly available it will go to all Committee members.
The transport regulations have already been announced by my noble friend Lord Davies, who, I hope, will handle those amendments in Committee. Ministers from the Department for Education and Skills will consult on the draft regulations on the power in Clause 15—what is a relevant qualification and the method of enforcement—in spring 2005. I hope that that deals with some of the handling points.
My noble friend Lord Carter asked about the interconnection with the other Bills. I think that he was asking for clarification in the Bill, as I am sure that he knows better than anyone in the House what the interaction will be. We have three different Bills for three different purposes, each with its own methods of seeking redress should it be necessary. In addition to this Bill on disability rights, there is the draft Mental Health Bill, which will provide a framework for the compulsory treatment of a few people, and the Mental Capacity Bill, which would empower people to make decisions where they can in clarifying the law where they cannot. We do not believe that there are issues about the way in which the three Bills interact that might need to be resolved, but obviously we will keep that under review.
The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, asked when the pre-legislative scrutiny recommendations would come into the Bill. All the recommendations that the Government accepted from pre-legislative scrutiny are now in the Bill. Further adjustments should not be necessary unless during discussion we feel that clarification is necessary.
As for Scotland, there has not yet been a Sewel Motion on Clause 3. If and when there is one, I shall report to noble Lords. I have no reason to think that there will be a difficulty.
I shall now seek to address as many of the issues raised as possible. Noble Lords will understand, however, that I would need an hour or two to go through most of them thoroughly, so, if it is accepted, I shall respond in writing to the points that I cannot deal with in person.
The first big issue, which was raised by my noble friend Lord Carter and addressed very eloquently by my noble friend Lady Wilkins, was about the medical model and the social model. My noble friend's phrase that it was very wise to be pragmatic in this regard caught my sentiments exactly. There is no tidy read-across between the degree of impairment and the degree of disability or discrimination that someone may suffer as a result of that impairment. One moves from a medical model through to a social one as a result.
I shall give a very obvious example. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury, who apologised for having to leave, was concerned about 706 the isolation of those who are profoundly deaf; none the less, nearly 70 per cent are in employment. Yet barely 10 per cent or 12 per cent of people with a mental health problem which may in clinical terms be regarded as relatively mild—that is not meant to be a subjective comment but a description—will be able to enter employment. The difference between those two suggests a movement across from a medical model to a social one.
Several noble Lords asked why the Bill did not include a phrase to promote good relations. My noble friend produced a form of words about social inclusion which I found rather attractive. I re-echo the words of my honourable friend in the other place, the Minister for Disabled People, Maria Eagle: we are open to be persuaded about that if there is good evidence; but alternative wording may be preferable. In my view there is not an obvious read-across to, say, race relations because we are not, for the most part. talking about disabled people living as geographical communities, unlike ethnic minorities, where there are issues of integration and cultural separation.
We are also worried that public authorities might think that they should not take positive steps, such as disabled parking schemes, because non-disabled people are envious of them. Therefore, good relations are about equity between different ethnic community groups. The same may not apply where we may absolutely want and need—rightly so—affirmative action for disabled people to get an outcome such as equality of access. That is why there is not necessarily a tidy read-across, but we are not closed to the issue. It is not simply awkwardness or cussedness on the part of the Government; there are real problems about definition.
I shall try broadly to respond to the specific points raised according to clause order, although I am sure that I have got them out of order. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury asked whether prisons, as well as the police, were included in Clauses 2 and 3. We accepted the pre-legislative scrutiny recommendations not to exempt prisons from Clause 2 and the Prison Service from Clause 3.
The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, asked whether councillors and their election and selection by political parties came under Clause 2. It is not appropriate to intervene in the rough and tumble of the political process of selecting and adopting candidates; it is for local constituency parties to decide. However, having served on councils with wheelchair users and others with severe disabilities, I have not seen any discrimination where candidates on other grounds, such as their commitment to the political party, their experience and so on, showed that they were appropriate candidates.
The noble Lord, Lord Rix, related some horrifying stories in a very moving speech about some of the physical abuse to which people with learning disabilities could be exposed. Existing legislation in the form of the Public Order Act 1986 and the Protection from 707 Harassment Act 1997 already protects individuals from abuse or harassment. In addition, if a case has a disability discrimination element to it, a court can take it into consideration when sentencing. We believe that the legislation already offers the appropriate legal protection to disabled people, although I accept that we must transform the culture—people's attitudes—rather than, necessarily, the legal framework for responding to abuses.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, asked about suitable equipment in hospitals. The public sector duty will ensure that all public services have due regard to the way in which all their functions affect disabled people. They will have to plan better, more comprehensively and more thoughtfully. Services such as lifting patients are already covered in the Part III rights, but, as the noble Baroness said, it was the lack of a battery, rather than the lack of good intent, that was the problem. We are hoping that the Bill will put a "disability filter" on to people's perceptions of their everyday activities, so that they can ensure that there is no passive discrimination—if I can put it that way—through a failure to act in a obvious and appropriate way.
The noble Baroness also asked about the right to die and about "do not resuscitate" issues. They are difficult issues, but treatment decisions are already covered by Section 19 of the DDA. The public sector duty in Clause 3 will prompt public sector university medical schools to give due regard to promoting equality as part of student training. It should not be an issue, but we must deal with the culture among some doctors. Like the noble Baroness, I read Jane Campbell's piece about having to fight for the right to be resuscitated and about her husband's role in ensuring that those rights were respected. I found it shocking and moving.
Some difficult transport issues were raised. They are difficult because of the high capital costs in some cases, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, pointed out. I think that everyone recognised that transport might be one of the hardest barriers for disabled people to overcome in order to ensure full integration.
The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, raised a series of issues. I may need to come back to him in correspondence on some of them. He asked how many people would travel by train if they could, but do not. I think that that is the way in which he asked it. We have no sense of the latent demand for train travel, but we know that 70,000 people have a disabled person's railcard, which gives some indication. Many more enjoy the mobility component of the disability living allowance.
The noble Lord, Lord Rix, rightly reminded us that it was not just a matter of wheelchair users and white stick users. There are perhaps 500,000 wheelchair users—one in 100 of us—and there are a million people with severe visual impairments—one in 50 of us. However, something like 1.5 million people—one in 30 of us—have learning difficulties, and their needs are different from questions of physical access on GNER trains and the like.
708 The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, asked why it would cost twice as much to go for 2017 as for 2020, the proposed end date. That is simply because twice as many vehicles would be affected. I am sure that that issue will be explored in Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, asked about audiovisual passenger information systems on trains and asked whether Underground trains would be included. The answer is, "Yes". Rail vehicle accessibility regulations apply to underground systems as well as heavy rail, light rail and tram systems.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, asked about GNER trains. New vehicles have been covered for just those problems since January 1999, but I suspect that the particular vehicles mentioned were introduced before January 1999. When refurbishment comes up, a proportionate response should take care of the issue. I am afraid that that does help in the exasperating mean time.
I will ensure that a copy of the Hansard record of our debate is sent to every organisation—clubs, railways and so on—that has been mentioned by name today. That might make them appreciate the concerns that have been expressed today.
Rail passenger information systems should be more widely available. They will be. Rail vehicle accessibility regulations require that PISs are provided on all new rail vehicles that have entered service since 1 January 1999. Obviously, there is an issue of cost with regard to refurbishment only.
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, asked when new rail provisions would obviate the need for exemptions. The new compliance certification process, which will be introduced by Clause 7, should obviate the need for exemptions, save for exceptional circumstances. New builds and refurbishments will be closely monitored and controlled from the outset, and all vehicles will require a compliance certificate before they can enter service.
There are some other issues. We expect the transport code to be negative, rather than affirmative, but I understand that colleagues in the Department for Transport will next week discuss associated issues, including rail accessibility and so on, with officials of Mencap.
The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, spoke about how bus stops can be blocked by parked cars. We recognise that accessible vehicles are only part of the solution. Other provisions in the Bill relating to public functions should ensure that access to the highway is also addressed. That is the right way to deal with that.
I was asked whether the code of practice for aviation would become mandatory. It cannot. Because they are international, aviation and shipping are subject to voluntary codes of practice, but we will monitor those codes of practice. We expect a report on compliance in the second half of 2005. If the voluntary approach proves ineffective, we will consult to see how much further we can go. However, it is an international issue, not just a domestic British issue, which we have to address.
709 Why are discriminatory adverts by service providers not also to be outlawed? The simple answer is that we have not found that to be a problem. If it is, we will come back to it.
I was asked about clubs and lifts. Again, there is the question of whether the cost of adjustment is reasonable, whether the building is listed and whether the changes can be made in a listed building. I will repeat the names given by the noble Baroness: White's and Brooks's. During my time in a local authority, we were told that such things would not be possible in various listed buildings, including the Octagon Chapel, probably the finest Dissenting chapel—a Quaker chapel—of the 1720s, built by a fine architect whose name, I think, was John Goldsmith. We found ways of ensuring accessibility into very fine grade 1 listed buildings. That benefited not only disabled people but elderly people, people with children, people with shopping bags and the like. Some good work has been done in Liverpool, making sure that listed heritage buildings increase accessibility without in any sense deforming the building. We must continue to ensure that all architects are aware of the issue.
I was pressed by noble Lords on the question of schools. Noble Lords may have overlooked the full situation for schools under the DDA. Schools are employers, service providers and educators. As such, they are already covered by Parts II, III and IV of the DDA. In particular, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 covered pupils. I think that, perhaps, people do not fully realise how far schools already come within the legislation.
I was asked about footpaths by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth. I guessed that she would do that. Basically, the overall effect of Clause 2 will be to ensure that the activities of the public sector, if they are functions, are covered by the DDA. That means that, if a highway authority has functions in respect of footpaths—such as providing and maintaining them—it will be covered by Part III of the DDA, as extended by this Bill. There may remain some narrow exceptions that we will, no doubt, explore in Committee, but the noble Baroness is right about the broad thrust.
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, asked me about dwellings. The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, asked about commercial property. I know that it is the point at which the Government do not share fully the views of the scrutiny committee or some members of it, but I must emphasise the fact that the Bill does not cover physical features internal to buildings. It covers issues such as a tenant's ability to read a tenancy agreement provided in the appropriate format and the need for portable aids and appliances, where appropriate.
I have had some personal experience of the issue, when I was reinstating the house of my parents, both of whom were disabled, after they died. I took out the stair lift and replastered the hall walls; replastered the bathroom after taking out the bath hoist and grab rails; and I redecorated. The cost then was £3,000 or £4,000. Where a tenant agrees to do that, that is fine. But when a tenant dies, where does the cost of 710 reinstatement fall, given that 40 per cent of landlords own only one property? Therefore, as with an inherited property, there may not be a great commercial estate.
There are quite difficult issues here regarding the costs of reinstatement and the degree to which existing legislation can be tested in court about unreasonableness. So it is a test about reasonableness which, no doubt, we can explore further. The same applies to commercial premises. Clause 13 does not require such changes so the RIA estimates are low precisely because they are only about formats, types and so on. Adjustment by employers with commercial premises is already covered under Part 2—reactive duties—and for customers under Part 3—anticipatory duties.
Finally, I turn to definitions. Obviously, we will debate further issues about depression. I am sure that we will come back to that. Clearly, there has been a wide welcome to the Government departing from the term "clinically well recognised".
I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, about cancer. Certain cancers will be excluded from being covered by the DDA definition. We are consulting on basal skin cell cancer and squamous cell cancers. My understanding is that this is a one-off intervention. One is not therefore dealing with long periods of treatment possibly requiring chemotherapy, radiotherapy and so on, which would naturally need to be covered before it became fully symptomatic.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that the great thing about cancer is that it depends on how far developed it is before it is given a label? That is something that we shall have to probe in Committee.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, absolutely. But there are other forms, such as the very early stages of cervical cancer, which can be treated by cone biopsy. We understand that something like 83,000 patients with various forms of this sort of cancer are treated each year. At this stage—the Committee may be able to persuade us otherwise—we do not think that they should necessarily come within the definition of continuing to be disabled after their treatment has been satisfactorily concluded.
After all, the whole point about disability here is that it has a substantial and adverse effect for a sustained period of time on daily living activities, which may not be the case in some situations. Having said that, within the time guidelines, I hope that I have addressed as far as I can the issues raised by your Lordships today. I am sure that I have overlooked some, in which case I shall—
§ Baroness Darcy de Knayth
My Lords, can the noble Baroness write to me about the importance of the small word "proportionate" in new Section 21D(5). under Clause 2? I suspect that its impact may be out of all proportion to the size of the subsection.
Baroness Houk of Heigham
My Lords, the noble Baroness used the example of pedestrianisation and 711 whether cobbles could be used because of their visual effect. It would be very difficult for people with—to give obvious examples—wheelchairs and visual impairment. I am very happy to write to the noble Baroness.
If the noble Baroness has examples of that, I would like to see them. Again, from my experience, wherever that was presented to me as the leader of a local authority in my ancient past, there was never any problem about finding some reconciliation of those issues. Clearly, if the noble Baroness has examples, we would like to address them. Otherwise, I suspect that it would be a matter if necessary for the appropriate judicial review, if it came to that.
With those responses, I hope that your Lordships will agree that the Bill has now had its Second Reading. With your Lordships' agreement, I should like to move that the Bill be referred to a Grand Committee.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Grand Committee.