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My Lords, I support Amendment 173. I will not rehearse the arguments about the details of the amendment so persuasively set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and by the ad hoc Select Committee of your Lordships’ House that she so ably chaired. Its excellent report on the Equality Act 2010 and its impact on disabled people bears testimony, if any were needed, to the proud and noble tradition of your Lordships’ House of fighting against disability discrimination and for equality.
I was proud to serve on the National Disability Council, which was set up to advise on the implementation of the Conservative Government’s 1995 Disability Discrimination Act, otherwise known as the DDA. Central to that Act was the concept of the duty to make reasonable adjustments to enable disabled people to access goods, facilities and services. As the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has said, the nature of that duty was anticipatory. The onus was not on the disabled person so much as on the provider to anticipate reasonable adjustments. That anticipatory principle is sacrosanct. To ignore it would be to go backwards, with all the political consequences that would involve.
I have to say that 21 years on from the DDA, I am suffering not from my disability but from a sense of déjà vu. Despite the milestone that the Act represented both for disabled people and for the Conservative Party, disabled people are still waiting. The regrettable fact is that the passage of time has not been matched by the passage of progress. The passing of this amendment would help to put that right.
I should like to explain briefly why I see this amendment as in keeping with fundamental Conservative principles. First, the obvious question—this relates to the idea that if the system ain’t broke, don’t fix it—is whether the system is broken and needs to be fixed. Yes, I know from personal experience that the system is broken because far too many disabled people are still trying unsuccessfully to access many licensed premises. Yes, it urgently needs fixing. If any noble Lord doubts that, I invite them to imagine how it would feel to be denied access to a licensed premises on account of being a Member of your Lordships’ House. Yet, that is happening every day of every week to disabled people on account of being disabled.
Secondly, is the amendment consistent with the emphasis in the DDA on the anticipatory nature of the duty to make reasonable adjustments, which are so fundamental to that Act? Yes. Thirdly, is it practicable? Yes, which is why it has the backing of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as we have already heard, and the Access Association among others. Finally, does it build on the Conservative Party’s rich heritage of social reform and opportunity? Undoubtedly it does, which is why the party of the DDA should take this opportunity to build on the Act’s principles and affirm its belief in disability equality.
I do not doubt my noble friend’s empathy or sincerity, but I wonder whether for some non-disabled ministerial colleagues, the concept of making reasonable adjustments is to assume that disabled people will be reasonable, yet again, and adjust downwards their legitimate hope of not being discriminated against on account of their disability.
In conclusion, the Select Committee’s report, from which this excellent amendment stems, sent an undeniably powerful message to disabled people that the anticipatory nature of the duty to make reasonable adjustments is not up for renegotiation. Disabled people should not have to demand access. Parliament needs to convey that same simple message tonight. Accepting this amendment would enable the Government to prove to disabled people that they mean what they say when they commit to building a country that works for everyone. I hope they will seize this opportunity to honour that pledge.