HC Deb 03 December 2003 vol 415 cc60-2WS
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Andrew Smith)

I have published today a draft Disability Discrimination Bill. The draft Bill would increase opportunities for disabled people in all areas of life, help to encourage diversity in society, and ensure that disabled people have a greater say in the way that services are run.

The draft Bill builds on the significant legislative steps we have already taken, such as: setting up a Disability Rights Commission; protecting disabled students and pupils against discrimination; bringing into force, in October 2004, the duties in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) concerning service providers making reasonable adjustments to physical features of their premises; and bringing into force, also in October 2004. major changes to the employment and training provisions of the DDA, including ending the current exemption of small firms.

The draft Bill introduces further measures proposed in "Towards Inclusion", our 2001 response to the recommendations of the Disability Rights Task Force. Those measures would further extend and strengthen disabled people's rights and place significant new duties on public bodies, transport operators and many others. They include changes to the DDA which would: clarify that the current exemption for transport services extends only to the vehicles themselves, and create a power to enable that exemption to be lifted for different vehicles at different times; extend the Act to cover the exercise of functions of public bodies, so that it would apply to most of their activities, not just those which consist of the provision of services; introduce a new duty on public bodies to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people, so they would be required to consider the needs of disabled people as early as possible at every stage in their policy and decision making; extend the definition of disability to cover more people with HIV or cancer, so that more disabled people would benefit from the Act's protection; require those who manage or let premises to make reasonable adjustments to their policies and practices for disabled tenants or prospective tenants; make clear that insurance provided on group terms to an employer's staff is covered as a service under the Act.

We have also looked at other changes which would help to improve disabled people's rights. Therefore, measures in the Bill would also: bring within scope of the DDA private clubs with 25 or more members, so that such clubs would be unable to discriminate against disabled members or prospective members or others who have rights to use such clubs; allow disabled people to issue a questionnaire in relation to discrimination complaints, not just in employment cases as now, but also cases concerning service providers, private clubs, landlords or public bodies carrying out their functions; extend the definition of disability in the DDA to more people with multiple sclerosis; and make third party publishers (e.g. newspapers) liable for publishing discriminatory advertisements, so that they would be acting unlawfully if they published a discriminatory job advertisement.

It is also our intention to publish draft provisions which would protect local councillors from discrimination by local authorities and details of our intentions are published with the draft Bill. We said we would extend the DDA in this way in "Towards Inclusion".

The draft Bill will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Parliamentary Committee. The Committee is likely to be calling for written and oral evidence and details on how to respond to the Committee will be made available on http://www.disability.gov.uk/ in due course. This will also explain how comments can be made on the draft Regulatory Impact Assessment outlining the costs and benefits of the draft Bill's provisions.

I can also announce that when the full Bill is introduced it will be our intention to include in it measures on setting an end date for rail vehicle accessibility and on the introduction of regulations to cover refurbishment of vehicles, subject to the outcome of a consultation which is being carried out by Ministers at the Department for Transport.

Our priority remains to meet our manifesto commitment during this Parliament. Implementation of all the provisions of the legislation that I have outlined would result in major new duties affecting the way in which all public bodies deal with disabled people, provide comprehensive civil rights for disabled people and significantly improve the way in which disabled people can participate in all activities of society.

In developing our plans for legislation, we have carefully considered the Disability Rights Commission's legislative review. Their First Review of the DDA— Disability Equality: Making It Happen—was published earlier this year. I am very grateful to the DRC for producing this review and highlighting so many issues. A detailed response to the DRC's review has been placed in the Library.

We have already legislated, in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amendment) Regulations 2003, to give effect to eight of the DRC's proposals that were included in their prior consultation document or their final recommendations. The Private Hire Vehicles (Carriage of Guide Dogs Etc) Act 2002 covered a further recommendation. The recent Criminal Justice Act implements another recommendation by making hostility towards the victim because of his or her disability an aggravating factor when sentencing for criminal acts in England and Wales. Several recommendations are inappropriate to national disability discrimination legislation as, for example, they fall to the Scottish Parliament to take forward; or apply to genetic discrimination which is being considered in a wider Government review of genetics; or propose changes to European law. These will be considered separately where appropriate. We will be taking into account the DRC's recommendations on amending the statutory guidance relating to the DDA's definition of disability when we come to review that guidance. The recent announcement about a Commission on Equality and Human Rights also relates to a review recommendation.

The DRC review also emphasised the need to implement recommendations made by the Disability Rights Task Force and reiterated many of them. The Disability Discrimination Bill when passed, combined in particular with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amendment) Regulations 2003, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Pensions) Regulations 2003 and the Disability Discrimination (Blind and Partially Sighted Persons) Regulations 2003, will fulfil our manifesto commitment for this Parliament to extend basic rights and opportunities for disabled people as indicated in "Towards Inclusion". The Bill also implements three further new recommendations from the DRC's review, as outlined in the attached response, as well as covering private clubs which was a Task Force proposal that we had previously rejected in "Towards Inclusion".

Although we have gone a long way to give effect to the DRC's proposals and recommendations, in general we prefer to keep the remainder in mind for possible consideration in the future, taking account of the need to bed in the fundamental and wide-ranging changes already under way. The DRC itself has said that it expected some proposals to be taken forward via a different route to the Disability Bill and over a slightly longer timeframe.

In any further development of the Disability Discrimination Bill, we will consider very carefully any recommendations from the scrutiny committee. The committee is likely to take evidence from the DRC and many other organisations and individuals.

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