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My Lords, I am sorry to say that the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, whose name is also on this amendment, is unwell. Her eloquence will be sorely missed this evening.
These five words which the amendment would insert would provide a simple and effective improvement in life for disabled people, and would fulfil one of the key recommendations of the Lords Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability, which I have had the privilege of sharing. This amendment is a narrowed-down version of Amendment 210 in Committee. It is supported by the Access Association and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It originated with a suggestion put to the Select Committee by a spokesperson for the National Association of Licensing Enforcement Officers, who has also written in support. The Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003 has no objection to it.
It is not just about disability; it is about all of us as we get older. It is about mainstreaming accessibility into everyday life. The ability—indeed, the right—to participate in various everyday areas of life can depend on the ability to access public spaces and buildings. Moreover, under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the UK bound itself to ensure that disabled people enjoy the rights to equal access set out in its Article 9. The Government have been criticised by the inquiry set up under that convention. Here is a way to show that that criticism is unjustified.
One-quarter of the disability discrimination-related inquiries to an Equality and Human Rights Commission helpline relate to failures to make reasonable adjustments. That is a big problem, and it is clear that some service providers do not understand what they have to do. If the amendment were passed, applicants for licences would have to include consideration of the requirements of disabled people from the outset in the application process. Accessibility could then be included in the licence conditions and would become just a regular objective.
In the debate in Committee, the Minister was against this on two grounds. The first was that it duplicated existing requirements in the Equality Act, which puts duties on employers and businesses to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. I cannot agree. The amendment would make those reasonable adjustments an anticipatory duty—that is the important aspect—not a burden on disabled people after they find they are excluded. The duty would be anticipatory and it would shift the burden off the shoulders of disabled people to the local authorities. Moreover, the existing duties of licensing authorities in Section 4 of the Licensing Act refer to,
“the prevention of crime and disorder … public safety … the prevention of public nuisance; and … the protection of children from harm”.
The amendment is about the prevention of harm to disabled people. Duplication is clearly not a problem as there are scores of other statutes referring to health and safety, children and nuisance.
The amendment would not require extra activity by licensees or the regulation of activity. It is only about planning in advance for access. It would mean that businesses and premises, knowing that inspection was coming, would turn their minds to accessibility in advance of being found wanting. It would end the scenario of a disabled person turning up at, say, a restaurant and finding it inaccessible, with no remedy in hand, and the humiliation and embarrassment that follow. The local authority would be able to impose conditions on the licence. The ultimate sanction, but an exceptional one, would be a refusal to extend the licence or grant it until those adjustments were made. This is of course in a framework of what is reasonable.
The amendment is narrower and more focused than its earlier incarnation. Disabled people know that mere guidance to owners of premises does not work. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has explained that it is unable to monitor compliance. This is the chance for the Government to show their commitment to narrowing the disabled unemployment gap. It would be in line with the Prime Minister’s policy of allowing everyone to go as far as their talents will permit. The Government should not speak with forked tongue on this policy. It would add not to the burden of licensing authorities but only to their objectives. It is disabled persons who bear the burden at the moment, and they are harmed by the existing barriers to access. Licensing is about preventing harm.
The second argument from the Government against the amendment was that it was singling out businesses and premises for compliance with the Equality Act. However, businesses and premises are being asked not to do anything extra but simply to put their minds to accessibility. This is not a party political matter; it is about common sense backing up compassion. It is about self-interest as we all get older. It is about legal requirements that already exist. It is about decency. I cannot imagine that it will be opposed in any quarter. This House should be seen to stand up for people who need it. This fits entirely with the mission on most sides of the House. I beg to move.