My Lords, I must apologise to the House for not getting my name down and for further taking up the time of your Lordships this morning, but I want to speak in the gap to indicate my strong support for the noble Lord who is bringing forward this Bill. I meant to sign up but I was working hard on something else and I am afraid that I took my eye off the ball—so I am sorry about that.
I commend the noble Lord on the thoroughness of his research and the excellent briefing that he has provided for us. In saying that, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I say that there is one thing I do not quite agree with in his excellent briefing. Unless I have it wrong, at one point he says that there is no legal requirement to remove steps and replace them with ramps and that no one is compelling businesses to carry out their duty to make reasonable adjustments. I agree with the second part of that statement more than the first. With respect to the noble Lord, there is a duty. It does not refer to steps as such, but most of what the noble Lord wants to achieve would comfortably be covered by the reasonable adjustment duty. So far as service providers are concerned, it is anticipatory: that is to say, it is owed to disabled people generally. The service provider needs to make adjustments in anticipation of disabled people coming along and cannot fulfil their duty by simply waiting until a disabled person turns up. This is not the case for employers, but that is not a problem because the noble Lord’s Bill is about service providers. So there is a duty—but, like the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, I believe that the real issue is with enforcement. This Bill should not be necessary; it should have been widely, if not generally, complied with already.
I served on the National Disability Council, which advised the Government on the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 as soon as it came into force, and later on the Disability Rights Commission, which had rather stronger powers. One thing I remember from those days is that the DDA came in in three stages. The duty to remove policies, procedures and practices which discriminated against disabled people came in straightaway; the duty to provide auxiliary aids and services, such as hearing loops, came in after four years; and the duty to remove or alter physical features that discriminated against disabled people came in after eight years. So the removal of steps and the provision of ramps should have been fully implemented and complied with as long ago as 2003.
So there is a duty; the real issue is with enforcement. In a very conciliatory part of his speech—indeed, it was all conciliatory—the noble Lord said that he would be willing to do a deal with the Government in Committee over his Bill if they would agree to bring in regulations that would give effect to the provisions of his Bill. I suggest that the power to make these regulations is already there in the Equality Act. Section 22 lists a number of matters on which regulations may be made, and I shall mention three of them. Regulations may be made on,
“matters to be taken into account in deciding whether it is reasonable … to take a step”— that is, “step” in the sense of actions that service providers have to take, not physical steps—
“things which are, or which are not, to be treated as physical features”,
“things which are, or which are not, to be treated as alterations of physical features”.
If the Government were to use this regulation-making power, I do not pretend that it would necessarily be a magic bullet, but I suggest to the Minister, and I would like to hear her view on this, that if the Government would give serious consideration to making such regulations, it could take us a significant step closer to getting service providers’ compliance with their duties under the Act and with the duty that the Bill is seeking to lay upon them.