HL Deb 20 January 2004 vol 657 cc895-8

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their proposed timescale for the draft Disability Discrimination Bill.

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

My Lords, the draft Discrimination Disability Bill will undergo pre-legislative scrutiny. We expect the committee to report at the end of April and that we shall publish our response in the summer. The legislative programme for the next Session of Parliament will be announced in the usual way.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that practically all of the major disability organisations have given a very warm welcome to the Bill because of its important provisions and that practically all of these organisations are concerned that there may be an undue delay because it is only a draft Bill? In view of the fact that we have had consultations for more than four years with disabled people, business, trade unions and the public sector, will the Government try to expedite the enactment of the Bill so that disabled people can soon get the extra protection against discrimination that the Bill will afford?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, it is our intention that the Bill will be passed this Parliament, although obviously I cannot pre-empt exactly what will be in the Queen's Speech.

Lord Higgins

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that, while the draft Bill is welcome, there is widespread concern that it has not been introduced as a substantive Bill at this stage? The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, said that there have been years of widespread consultation and a general consensus seems to have been reached. Will she tell us which particular aspects of the Bill made it necessary to send it to a Joint Committee? Are we to understand from what she has just said that the substantive Bill will not be introduced in this Session and that instead we shall have procrastination in the Joint Committee?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I would not use words such as procrastination; that is quite inappropriate. There are procedures, including roll-over, which are available to the usual channels, if that is what they want to pursue. To go back to the substance of the noble Lord's question, Bert Massie, who is the chair of the Disability Rights Commission, said this month: The pre-legislative scrutiny process offers to engage a wide range of stakeholders in understanding the current law and benefits of the proposed changes as well as to explore ways in which the Bill might be further strengthened to the benefit of disabled people". I think that answers the noble Lord.

Lord Addington

My Lords, will the Minister give us some indication of the Government's thinking about the implementation of any final Bill? One of the problems with the original legislation was that it took so long to be implemented that it went from being a long-term project, to a medium-term project, to a panic. Can we make sure that there will be better planning over time for the final implementation of the Bill?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

Yes, my Lords. That is again where we would expect the support of the scrutiny committee. I am sure your Lordships are aware of the membership of that body. It includes, for example, from your Lordships' House—it will be on the Order Paper tomorrow—the noble Lords, Lord Addington, Lord Carter, Lord Rix, Lord Swinfen and Lord Tebbit, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins. Given that degree of strength on the Scrutiny Committee—I do not know about your Lordships but the committee certainly terrifies me—I am confident that they will not allow any such delay or hesitation in implementation as the noble Lord suggests.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, for how long do the Government expect the Bill to remain a draft? Are the Government already receiving proposed amendments and additions?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I thought that I had attempted to answer that. I clearly did not. This is a draft scrutiny Bill. The committee will be receiving the evidence and reporting to the Government by the end of April. It is our intention that a Bill will be introduced into Parliament and completed before this Parliament ends. We are on track to meet our manifesto commitments in that respect.

Lord Morris of Manchester

My Lords, I, too, most warmly welcome the Government's enormous progress in this field and congratulate my noble friend and her ministerial colleagues, more especially, of course, Maria Eagle, as Minister for disabled people. But can my noble friend say whether the draft Bill will be available in all the different formats necessary to make it accessible to blind people and others in need of them?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

Yes, my Lords. My noble friend is right, it is important that, if one is having a draft scrutiny process, all possible stakeholders are aware of the issues involved. As a result, the Bill is already available in Braille, it is on the DWP's website and by the end of the week there will be an easy-reading version for people with learning difficulties. I have a draft with me. It has cartoons and so on and may be of particular appeal to your Lordships. Also, and more interestingly, if I may say so, by the end of the month we expect to have a video available in British Sign Language. All of the obvious formats are covered in ways that probably have not been done before in legislation.

Baroness Wilkins

My Lords, as much as the Bill is enabling in nature, will my noble friend give an assurance that the draft regulations will be made available at the earliest opportunity so that the Joint Committee can give proper scrutiny to the Bill?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, my understanding is that the regulations will not be ready in draft form while the committee is sitting but that the officials intend to submit an explanatory memorandum describing the import of the regulations which I trust will be of value to the committee.

Baroness Greengross

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the definition of disability could be improved to include people with mental health problems who currently have a lot of problems and suffer a great deal of discrimination in getting benefits and claiming protection under the DDA?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

Yes, my Lords. The definition of disability, as opposed to sickness, is that it is long-standing and has an adverse effect on daily life. It tends to mean, for example, that if somebody has severe mental health problems, they would normally have lasted perhaps 12 months or be of a recurring nature. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness that it is one of the biggest growth areas, if I can use that phrase. Of the increasing numbers of people claiming disability benefit, nearly one-third have mental health problems and learning difficulties. They are people who find it extremely difficult to re-enter work, whereas people with what would appear to be more severe disabilities, such as blindness or deafness, actually manage to re-enter the labour market more effectively. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, that it is a very difficult area. I certainly compliment the Schizophrenia Fellowship and the Richmond Fellowship on the work that they do in trying to help people with severe mental health problems to build their confidence and re-enter the labour market. As I say, this is an extremely difficult area.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, I am glad to hear what the Minister said about including cartoons for those who have difficulty reading. Is she aware that 10 per cent of the population have dyslexia? Is the Bill written in accordance with the recommendations of the Dyslexia Association whereby the correct fonts, the correct spacing and the correct colour of paper are used? Has she followed those recommendations?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, my understanding is that that has been done regarding font size and so on. However, I shall check on the point about colour as that also affects people with red/green colour blindness, not just dyslexics.

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