HL Deb 25 October 2004 vol 665 cc1062-4

3 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they propose to introduce the Disability Discrimination Bill and when the Second Reading is likely to be taken.

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

My Lords, the Disability Discrimination Bill underwent pre-legislative scrutiny earlier this year. The committee reported on 27 May, and we are grateful for such a comprehensive and thoughtful contribution to the debate. We published our response in July. The timing of the introduction and Second Reading is a matter for the business managers' usual channels, but we remain on track to complete our manifesto commitment to introduce comprehensive and enforceable rights in this Parliament.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I welcome the statement that the Government remain on track; it will satisfy a lot of people. Millions of disabled people have been disappointed and frustrated at the delay. There are enormous amounts of discrimination out there, which leads to loss of opportunity, division, bullying and so on. I have one further fear: that the Bill may be squeezed out because of the pressure of new legislation after the Queen's Speech. Can the noble Baroness say anything helpful on that?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right about the significance of the Bill. The regulations that this House accepted a few months back, which came into effect in October, have fully extended civil rights to disabled people in the fields of employment and services. The Bill will extend full civil rights to disabled people in the field of transport and give them full rights as active citizens. So he is absolutely right to highlight its importance.

I repeat that the progress of the Bill is a matter for the usual channels. However, I am confident that the Bill will complete its parliamentary passage before the end of the next Session and will not affect at all our expected timetable for implementation, which is what matters to disabled people.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, would the noble Baroness be surprised to know that this is a part of Labour's manifesto that I fully support? Since, I think, that is the general attitude in the House, will it be possible to get the Second Reading in during this Session in order that we can take advantage of the carry-over provisions, which might assist in making good the pledge that the noble Baroness has just made?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I am always delighted to have unexpected allies. However, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is fully experienced in the ways of both Houses. He knows that the timing of legislation at First Reading and Second Reading is a matter for the usual channels.

Lord Carter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Bill fulfils the criteria for carry-over laid down by the House because, as she said, it has received pre-legislative scrutiny? I appreciate that agreement must be reached on carry-over. It may help my noble friend and the House to know that, when I was the opposition spokesman on social security and disability, we co-operated with the then government by taking the Second Reading of a very important social security Bill on a Friday. So a precedent exists. The Bill will help some 10 million disabled people in the UK. I hope that the Government and the usual channels can give it the priority it deserves.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I agree that we want the Bill to have the appropriate priority. I have always found the Opposition constructive and helpful—usually helpful, anyway—on this and other Bills. I look forward to having the same degree of constructiveness in our relationship on the Disability Discrimination Bill as we are currently enjoying on the Pensions Bill.

Lord Addington

My Lords, will the Government assure us that they will not only manage to get the Bill through; they will also ensure so far as possible that we have sufficient time to discuss the Bill and that that is worked into their plans? As the noble Baroness knows, the issue has aroused much interest and many diverse issues. We have been discovering new information as we go through that process.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, again, the number of Committee sittings is a matter for the usual channels. However, as my noble friend said, the Bill has enjoyed pre-legislative scrutiny. I hope that if such scrutiny is as valuable as we all believe it to be, it will allow for fairly rapid discussion in Committee because so much has already been explored.

Baroness Wilkins

My Lords, the transport provisions of the Bill will rely heavily on regulation powers. Can the Minister assure me that the Government will publish those regulations at the same time as the Bill?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, we intend to consult on the proposals of the draft regulations during the passage of the Bill. I reassure my noble friend that I expect my colleagues in the Department for Transport to make an announcement soon on that, on the refurbishment regime and on the end date, which I think is the primary concern—in other words, by what date adaptions to rail vehicles, in particular, will make them fully accessible to disabled people—and thereafter to consult further on the matter.