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Equality Bill (Access to Information)

Women and Equality – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 28th January 2010.

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Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South 10:30 am, 28th January 2010

If she will bring forward amendments to the Equality Bill to provide equality of access to information for blind and partially-sighted people.

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Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Minister of State (Ministry of Justice) (also in Government Equalities Office), Minister of State (Government Equalities Office) (also in the Ministry of Justice)

Undertakings have been given in the other place to consider tabling amendments on Report. However, the existing disability discrimination legislation provides that accessible information for visually impaired people and others is a reasonable adjustment, and the disability equality duty requires public authorities not to discriminate against disabled people on the grounds of their disability. Providing accessible information for disabled people might be required to meet that obligation in appropriate circumstances.

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Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

The problem is that organisations such as the Royal National Institute for Blind People feel that the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 to which the Minister referred are unenforceable because access to information is classed as an auxiliary aid and service. I hope that my hon. Friend will look favourably on the suggestion that the Equality Bill needs a separate clause to make these provisions absolutely clear. Will she also confirm that trying to solve this problem by means of a judicial review would not be the way forward?

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Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Minister of State (Ministry of Justice) (also in Government Equalities Office), Minister of State (Government Equalities Office) (also in the Ministry of Justice)

The requirements of the current Disability Discrimination Act are enforceable, and they can be enforced in appropriate circumstances. However, we want public authorities to take a leading role and to lead by example in providing accessible information to those with visual impairments and others. In that respect, I hope that the House authorities themselves will consider whether refusing to allow a visually impaired parliamentarian a Braille copy of a Bill is really helping that parliamentarian to do his job. Should we not be leading by example in this respect? I believe that we should be, and I hope that the House authorities will reconsider that decision. [This section has been corrected on 3 February 2010, column 3MC — read correction]

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