Disability Discrimination (Private Clubs etc.) Regulations 2005

– in the House of Lords at 7:52 pm on 22 November 2005.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) 7:52, 22 November 2005

rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 19 October be approved. [6th Report from the Joint Committee and 13th Report from the Merits Committee].

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, in my view these draft regulations are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. They will ensure that private members clubs with 25 or more members are under essentially the same duties of reasonable adjustment which are imposed under Part 3 of the Disability Discrimination Act on providers of goods, services and facilities to the general public. That is what we proposed in our consultation document published during the passage of the Disability Discrimination Bill, on which we received a small but positive response in agreement. Many private clubs which provide services to the public, such as rooms for hire, will of course already be well acquainted with these duties. I stress that private clubs will only be asked to do what is reasonable in all the circumstances. That means that disability discrimination legislation will provide a familiar and consistent regime of law for disabled people, whether in relation to providers of goods, services and facilities to the general public or private members clubs providing benefits, facilities and services to their members, associates and guests.

The duties are anticipatory, so private clubs must consider the likely needs of any actual or future disabled members, associates and guests in advance of a person facing difficulties, and make arrangements to meet them where this is reasonable and in all the circumstances. Clubs must be prepared to make changes to their policies, practices, procedures and physical features of the premises they occupy. They must also be prepared to provide auxiliary aids or services to help disabled people access their benefits, facilities or services.

In all these cases, they must do these things where not to do so would make it unreasonably difficult or impossible for a disabled person who is a member, associate or guest to make use of the benefits, services or facilities provided by the club for its non-disabled members, associates or guests—the threshold of "unreasonably difficult" or "impossible to use" being the same as that which currently applies to service providers under Part 3 of the DDA. The duties also extend to prospective members and guests within the scope of the non-discrimination duties provided for in the Act. Any breach of the duties is enforceable only by a disabled person who is adversely affected. Clubs also have broadly the same limited range of justifications for not making reasonable adjustments, as do providers of goods and services to the general public.

The duty to make reasonable adjustments is intended to apply from 4 December 2006. The Disability Rights Commission is in the process of producing a revised code of practice on Part 3 of the Disability Discrimination Act, which will include practical advice and guidance to clubs on how to apply these duties. The consultation period on the code has just ended, and the commission will shortly be submitting a revised code to us for approval and for laying before Parliament.

However, in extending these principles to private members clubs, we have had to bear in mind the special relationship that such clubs have with their members, associates and guests. There are, therefore, some differences of detail to deal with the particular circumstances of clubs. For example, where a private club—perhaps one which comprises a local interest group—meets in a private house belonging to one of the club's members or associates, additional considerations apply to ensure that the member or associate concerned would be under no obligation to agree to making changes to his or her home.

The regulations also set out certain circumstances where there are exceptions to the duty not to treat a disabled person less favourably than a non-disabled person for a reason which relates to the disabled person's disability. These circumstances are similar to those which apply in relation to providers of goods, services and facilities to the general public. It is intended that these provisions will apply from 5 December 2005.

We have consulted on the policy behind these regulations. We have framed them to provide a consistent legislative framework across providers of goods, facilities and services, and we have taken account of the special relationship that clubs have with their members. I think that we have reached a fair balance between the rights of disabled people to participate fully in all society has to offer, and the rights of people to associate in private. I commend these draft regulations to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 19 October be approved [6th Report from the Joint Committee and 13th Report from the Merits Committee].—(Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.)

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Spokesperson in the Lords (Sport), Culture, Media & Sport, Spokesperson in the Lords (Disability), Work & Pensions, Deputy Chief Whip, People With Disabilities, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

My Lords, as we are all busy giving way to each other at a rate of knots, I will just say that I basically welcome these regulations. I remember that when we did the pre-legislative scrutiny on the Bill a representative of the London clubs came to see us. The whole committee was thrown into shocked surprise when he basically said "Yes, we can do this. There isn't a problem. We will be able to come into line with what else is going on here". There was a sense of anticlimax, a few of us having expected a stonewalling rearguard action.

The regulations basically say that private clubs, which have quite an important place in our society, must ensure that they are consistent with provision for the disabled population in other parts of their lives. The regulations are totally in keeping with the most recent legislation, which filled in all the gaps around the initial legislation. It may not have gone far enough. Perhaps we will need a single equality Act. But as far as the regulations go, in the current framework, I can find no real objection to them.

Photo of Lord Carter Lord Carter Labour

My Lords, the regulations are extremely welcome. The Joint Committee looked hard at the issue and welcomed the new function in the draft Bill. We examined it in depth. We had the evidence from the London clubs, which surprised us all because they were in favour. This adds to the whole armoury of things that the 1995 and 2005 Acts and the rest are doing to help disabled people. It is wholly welcome.

Photo of Baroness Wilkins Baroness Wilkins Labour

My Lords, I add my thanks to the Government for bringing forward these regulations, which are, as other noble Lords have said, extremely welcome. They mean that disabled people will have more opportunities for socialising, networking and taking part in political life, and that yet another barrier to disabled people having equal opportunities in taking part in ordinary everyday life has been removed. The Government are to be congratulated.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Work & Pensions & Welfare Reform

My Lords, I too welcome the regulations. It is overdue that the same rights and privileges that have been extended to disabled people from the 1995 Act onwards should extend to their activities in clubs. I have no doubt about that.

I was going to ask the Minister various questions about "reasonableness" in this particular circumstance, but since the same test will be used as has been used previously in respect of public buildings and so on, I do not think that it is necessary. However, I think it is necessary to follow up a point made in another place by my honourable friend the Member for Wells, which was that Parliament passes legislation and so often expects others to execute it. There is a well trodden path on disability legislation, which we all know about—at least there has been up to now. The aggrieved person would normally turn to the Disability Rights Commission. In passing, I congratulate the Government on setting that up in the first place. As I say, he would normally turn to the DRC after his complaint to the perpetrator of the alleged offence had been ignored. The commission, if it thought it right, would then take up the case. That was the position when we debated the Bill earlier this year.

However, the DRC is about to disappear into a body called, I believe, the equal opportunity and human rights commission. Clearly, the latter will have the capability to act for the complainant, but will it have the same clout that the DRC has achieved in its short lifetime in sorting out the disabled person's problems, not only as a last resort but in taking cases to court?

Lastly, there is a whole raft of regulations flowing from two Acts. Are there any plans within the department to consolidate both them and the two Acts into a single entity, not necessarily an Act but into plain man's language, so that those affected by them can readily understand what is being demanded of them? I understood the Minister just now to tell us that there would be a plain man's guide to access to clubs following up this order, but that is only a part of the whole general scheme which I believe is required.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I welcome the general support that noble Lords from all sides of the House have given to this regulation and the provisions contained in it. That is very welcome and much appreciated. I also would like to pay tribute to the London clubs and, generally, the private clubs, which have been in communication with my department for their positive response. That is very welcome and should be commended.

I am interested in consolidation. I cannot give the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, a guarantee. All I will say to him is that I shall endeavour to see what can be done because, as someone who was brought up on NHS Acts and who constantly found problems with the lack of consolidation, I very much understand the problem. As ever, one finds that, in prioritisation terms, it is sometimes difficult to get consolidation, but I certainly understand his point.

The noble Lord raised the test of reasonableness with me before the debate. He did not ask me any questions on it because, he is right, it follows existing precedent. I shall undertake to write to him and to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, perhaps with an outline of some of the issues, if both noble Lords would find that helpful, and I can place a copy of that correspondence in the Library.

On the DRC and the equalities commission that is to be established, I agree with the noble Lord that the DRC has done an absolutely splendid job. Once again one must pay enormous tribute to the chair of the commission, the commissioners and the staff. How it has conducted its business has been exemplary. One test of that is its relationship with the bodies it regulates, alongside disabled people on whose behalf it works. It seems to me that the DRC has established a very good position in terms of the respect in which it is held by those it is responsible for regulating, but also the support it has received from disabled people. I do not hesitate to pay tribute to it.

We think that there is great advantage in bringing the various agencies together, and that is why we are taking legislation through Parliament. The noble Lord will know that the intention is to set up a special committee, particularly charged with looking at disability matters. We want to add value and bring the best of all three bodies into this new organisation. If that new body follows the example of the DRC, it will be very well placed to take on these duties. I am grateful for the comments.

On Question, Motion agreed to.